Mumbai: Despite receiving Stage 1 (in principle) forest clearance (FC) in February 2022, the Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation’s (MRVC) plans to enhance railway line capacity between Virar and Dahanu on the western line have not yet taken off, as the Bombay high court has not granted permission for clearing about 24.5 hectares of mangroves in Palghar district for the project. A writ petition before the HC is still pending in the matter.
However, the regional empowered committee (REC) of the ministry of environment, forests and climate change has allowed MRVC to start work on portions of the railway line that lie outside of the protected mangrove patches (about two hectares of land), while recommending the project for Stage II clearance, which is the final level of FC required for any project. With the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority having accorded the project CRZ clearance in November 2022, officials say that the HC’s pending permission is all that stands in the way of the project’s construction, slated for completion by 2025.
The project is part of Phase III of the Mumbai Urban Transport Project, and involves the laying of the third and fourth railway lines parallel to the existing double line corridor between Virar and Dahanu for a distance of about 63 km. “As the existing double-line corridor is oversaturated, it is not possible to increase the number of suburban services in this section,” an official from MRVC said.
“Therefore it was decided to lay an additional two lines to enable a separate corridor for suburban services, as has been done for the Churchgate-Virar section of the Western Railway,” he added. “The lines are being laid on the western side of the existing lines, as the Centre’s dedicated freight corridor project is planned on the eastern side.” The proposed corridor will serve the requirement of roughly two million residents from Virar to Dahanu Road in Palghar district.
Official documents show that the project will lead to the felling of 25,438 trees, including 24,302 mangroves. To offset the loss, compensatory afforestation has been proposed on 54 hectares of degraded land in three nearby villages in Palghar itself. From the two-odd hectares of land outside the mangrove area –where work will be carried out without needing the HC’s approval – a total of 200 trees will be transplanted within one year of receiving Stage II clearance. “We will carry out the work in the monsoon season and send a report to the REC,” said the official.