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Govt’s expert body recommends clearance for forest area diversion for Tripura rail link

LiveMint logoLiveMint 13-09-2017 Mayank Aggarwal

New Delhi: In line with the Indian government’s ‘Look East’ policy, an expert body of the Union environment ministry has recommended a clearance for diversion of 9.94 hectares of forest area for the 112km long Agartala-Sabroom rail link in Tripura.

The project involves diversion of the forest land from Trishna Wildlife Sanctuary for construction of the new broad gauge railway line between Agartala and Sabroom, the southern-most town in Tripura near the India-Bangladesh border. The project was first envisaged in 2008 and is expected to be completed by 2019.

The rail link will make the nearest sea port of Chittagong in Bangladesh, which is just 75km away, accessible.

“Considering its strategic importance it was declared a national railway project by the central government several years ago. Its progress is being monitored at the level of the prime minister’s office,” said a senior official of the environment ministry, requesting anonymity.

The project was discussed in the 4 September meeting of the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) headed by the Union minister of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) Harsh Vardhan.

It was discussed a few months ago by the panel but to address concerns related to the project’s impact on wildlife, an expert committee was formed and asked to give suggestions. The committee’s report was discussed at the 4 September meeting.

The standing committee of NBWL recommended clearance to the project but stipulated several conditions.

The site inspection committee suggested measures like “flattened” embankments on either side of the railway line as steep ones often trap animals on the railway track, putting them at risk of being run over by fast moving trains. It also suggested that speed of the trains plying through the forest patches of the sanctuary should be below 45 kilometres per hour.

The expert committee advocated “separate smaller passage ways for small mammals, reptiles and amphibians” all along the railway track.

Trishna Wildlife Sanctuary is India’s only natural breeding centre for bisons. The committee recommended that the “Bhairavnagar Bison Conservation Area be managed as a Conservation Reserve under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972”.

The project is expected to benefit not just Tripura but the entire northeast region of India. The route to north-eastern states from within India is only through hilly terrain in Assam and West Bengal and that takes a lot of time, making connectivity difficult. For instance, the distance between Agartala and Kolkata is about 1,700km by road within India but is just over 350km through Bangladesh.

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