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Sikkim Govt, wildlife board at odds over extension of broad gauge line

Monday, 18 February 20130 comments

New Delhi Feb 18: Controversy kept raging over the proposed extension of the broad gauge line from Sevoke in North Bengal to Rangpo in Sikkim that will pass through the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. While the State Government has given its nod to the project and sent it to National Board For Wildlife (NBWL), certain members of State wildlife advisory board on the contrary claim to be in the dark despite the fact they had objected the proposal in their last meeting.
The State Forest Department has, however, rubbished their claims. The State Chief Wildlife Warden (CWW) SB Mandal clarified that the minutes of the last meeting had been circulated to them and they are aware of the situation.
Even as the debate continues, the experts have feared the proposed project of about 42 kms length will affect the migration of a population of about 300-350 Asiatic elephants in the area. This will further escalate incidents of man-elephant conflicts, they felt. The Ministry of Environment and Forest is scheduled to have a meeting with the Railways on Monday, in which the issue of the proposed project is expected to figure prominently.
According to Animesh Bose, member of the State Wildlife Advisory board, “We members had strongly objected to the proposal in our last meeting held in February last year. But we are surprised as to how the State Government has gone ahead with its nod, without taking our opinions on board.
The proposed project is an expansion of the broad gauge track running from Alipurduar to Siliguri. The area has already turned out to be a killer zone for the elephants.” He added that the area rich in biodiversity is ecologically very fragile and geologically unstable. Hence such a project would spell disaster. There is an immediate need for a proper Environment Impact Assessment.
The CWW SB Mandal, however, mentioned that he has records that bear signatures of all the members of the board indicating that the minutes of the meeting had been circulated. He pointed out that the project is absolutely safe for both forests and wildlife.
“Only four and half kms of the rail track will pass through Mahananda sanctuary and the project will be passing underground”, he said. He further added that Railways did have EIA done by recognised international agencies, who have denied any such ecological threats. Mandal questioned back saying, “when there is zero damage to either wildlife or forest and it will increase connectivity to as far as Sikkim, the project must be welcomed instead.” 
According to Anil Kumar Singh, expert from Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) working on train hit mitigations of wildlife in the country, Mahananda wildlife sanctuary is one of the worst hit with man-elephant conflicts. “About 60-75 persons have been killed last year alone in the area and livelihoods of many undermined “, he mentioned.
This so-called stretch of four and half kms as claimed by CWW is very crucial, he added. This is used by the jumbos to cross over from Mahananda forests to Kalimpong, said Singh. There will also be an increase in rail traffic across the proposed stretch, which would aggravate the situation further.
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