Railway projects passing through forest lands, national parks and eco-sensitive zones will not be exempted from the forest clearance process, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) told the Railways Ministry and state forest departments. The Environment Ministry’s clarification on the matter comes after the Railways had argued that Railways Act, 1989, gives it the power to acquire land, including forests, falling in its right of way. MoEF&CC clarified its position on the issue after referring the matter to the Ministry of Law and Justice, who seconded the Environment Ministry’s opinion.
The MoEF&CC told Railways, that as per the Law Ministry, despite provisions of the Railways Act, 1989, allowing Railways to acquire any land for its projects, forest land falling in the right of way attract provisions of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. MoEF&CC added that even if the forest land is under the possession of the Railways, it will need to seek forest clearance for non-forestry work. Further, projects passing through protected areas would need the approval of the National Board for Wildlife.
“Railway projects passing through wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, and tiger reserves amount to destruction of habitat within the meaning of various sections of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The need of seeking approval for railway projects passing through a wildlife sanctuary is in pursuance of Supreme Court order of 2002,” the MoEF&CC said.
The Railways had raised the issue of applicability of Forest Conservation Act, 1980, and Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, for its projects citing the upcoming conversion of Akola-Khandwa railway line from metre gauge to broad gauge. The railway line passes through a reserve forest, Wan sanctuary and the Melghat Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra. Of the 176-km track, 40 km passes through forested areas and of that 18 km lies inside the tiger reserve. According to government documents, the project would require diversion of 160.94 hectares of forest from the critical tiger habitat of Wan Sanctuary, a part of Melghat Tiger Reserve.
The Railways had argued that Railways Act, 1989, gives it the power to acquire land, including forests, falling in its right of way. MoEF&CC clarified that Railway projects passing through forest land, national parks, eco-sensitive zones will not be exempted from forest clearance process.