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News Entry# 468170
Oct 22 (12:18) Gauge conversion, electrification project in Gir forest suspended for want of clearance, Railways tell Guj HC (www.google.com)
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News Entry# 468170  Blog Entry# 5100791   
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Ahmedabad, Oct 12 (PTI) It has been decided at present to not undertake gauge conversion with electrification project for railway lines passing through Gir forest, the only abode of Asiatic lions, in the absence of requisite clearances, the Railways told the Gujarat High Court on Tuesday.

In its affidavit submitted before the division bench of Justices NV Anjaria and AP Thake, Divisional Railway Manager (Western Railway), Bhavnagar, Tarun Kumar said the Railway Board has not sanctioned the project for gauge conversion with electrification in Gir forest region in the absence of clearance
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from both the state and national boards.

"The Railway Board can only consider sanctioning the project after clearance is given by the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL) and National Board for Wildlife (NBWL). The Railway Board, after due deliberation, has taken a decision vide its letter dated July 31, 2020 that presently, this conversion is not going to be undertaken," the affidavit said.

The court is hearing a civil application on the impact of the proposed broad gauge and track electrification of the railway lines and laying of oil-gas pipelines and optical fibre cables. The matter will come up for hearing next on October 25.

The Rail Vikas Nigam Limited, an undertaking of Indian Railway, had, in August 2019, initiated the process of getting wildlife clearance for gauge conversion and railway electrification projects on Khijadiya- Visavadar, Veraval-Talala- Visavadar, Junagadh-Visavadar lines in Gir forest area, it said.

The state government told the High Court in a separate affidavit that the SBWL had deliberated on the proposal in a meeting on September 29, 2020 and forwarded it with positive recommendations to the state government.

The government, however, has not accepted the proposal and returned it to the SBWL on December 4, 2020, for further examination and opinion.

"The proposal has not yet been approved and is pending at the state level. The proposal will be implemented only after the final sanction is received from the Centre," it said.

After the September 29, 2020 deliberation, the State Board for Wildlife decided to send the proposal to the National Board for Wildlife for consideration and necessary clearance subject to certain conditions, it said.

As per the proposal, the activity is to be undertaken on 148.14 hectares of land owned by the railways and on the same alignment of the present meter gauge line, which is either passing through the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary or nearby reserved forest or eco sensitive zone, it said.

The number of trains will also remain the same along with the existing speed limit of 30 kmph, and underpasses will also be constructed for the passage of wildlife along with fencing on both sides, it said.

As per the affidavit, 59.95 kilometres of railway tracks pass through the eco-sensitive Gir forest zone, of which 22.78 km is within Gir Wildlife Sanctuary. When trains pass, they are stopped or made to pass slowly whenever lions or cubs are found on the railway lines, it said.

In 2017-18, two accidents involving lions being run over by trains took place, while it was three lions in 2018-19, though no such accident was witnessed in 2019-20.

In 2020-21, one accident was reported, and in 2021-22 till date, one accident was reported, it said.

The Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife, Junagadh, said another proposal for laying of 86.6 km oil and gas pipelines on the periphery of Gir Wildlife Sanctuary from Gujarat State Petronet Limited was accepted by the SBWL on September 29, 2020 and forwarded to the state government with positive recommendation.

The state government approved and forwarded the proposal to the Centre on January 20, 2021. The said pipeline passes 4.8 km away from the wildlife sanctuary border, it said.

At present, an area within 10-km radius from the Sanctuary is considered eco-sensitive zone as per the Centre''s 2011 notification, with 25.68 km pipeline passing through the said 10-km radius of the wildlife sanctuary.

Laying of oil and gas transportation pipelines has not been specified as prohibited activity in the said list of activities as per the Centre''s Feb 9, 2011 guidelines, said the state government''s affidavit. PTI KA BNM
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