274 species of birds, 35 species of mammals, 78 species of reptiles and amphibians, 170 species of butterflies and over a staggering 1,300 species of plants live in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). The 103 sq. km. of area in the heart of Mumbai city serves as the green lungs of the population of 20 million people. And now, 10.55 hectares of this precious forest is to be given away for of Rs.15 crore in the name of development.
Various departments at the state and national level have turned their attention towards occupying a charge chunk of the forest area and passing a railway line through it by the name o af ‘Western Dedicated Freight Corridor’, a double electric line connecting JNPT and Dadri in Western UP. The national park is home to various wild animals like panthers and leopards. At a time when the city is already facing leopard attacks due to reducing forest cover, a railway line through the forest will spell the death knell for them. This will not only affect wild animals, but also the many people residing nearby.
Now, the questions are, won’t this line affect the eco system of the national park; won’t it harm the flora, fauna and the animals drastically? The Supreme Court has asked Indian railways to do a proper fencing of the railway line but the answers to these questions have not been given
Railway officials have said that, they will make one-time payment of Rs. 15 crore to the national park, so the national park can carry out fencing activity. There is no word about the disposal of tonnes of construction debris that will be generated through the activity. Is 15 crore rupees worth destroying precious forest land?
Looking into the seriousness of the issue, Rotaract Club of Dombivli Suncity along with Plants and Animals Welfare Society (PAWS) came together on www.change.org and started a campaign. They have filed a petition against this order of the Supreme Court and they are not just against the land which has been de-reserved from the SGNP but also against the forests de-reserved from the Thane and Dahanu Forest Division. In all, a total of 58 hectares of reserved land has been de-reserved by the government itself.
“We are not saying that we are against the development of the human race by filing this petition but, we are against the development of human race by putting the lives of various endangered species at stake. Forest Department kept aside its reservations which could be overseen to an extent but, later went on to de-reserve the forest under SGNP against the objections of the Officials. I am sure there can several different routes which can be constructed around the reserved forest. We won’t let the flora and fauna of the city die so easily. We have taken a step towards saving it and are sure many would follow us,” says Rtr. Vivek Khedekar, Public Relations Officer of Rotaract Club of Dombivli Suncity.
“Natural resources are the real riches of this country and so is the amazing variety of wild life this country is home to. We have already destroyed many forests and Wildlife. This is probably the last one Mumbai has and we as citizens should make every effort to stop the government from running the train line through the forest. There can be an alternative found if and only if the government has the will and share the same sentiment expressed through these 100s of signatures,” says Raghu Dixit.
“I love this piece of priceless lush forest in the universe of cement. And they might soon swallow every bit of it. Sanjay Gandhi National Park houses rare flora & fauna within a metropolis. I remember the lovely trips there, when I used to wonder how lucky we are to have this green oasis. May this stay protected, as it was meant to be. De-reservation is not development,” says Amita Vyas, a supporter of the cause and the petition.
“It’s totally unjustified for the forest department to de-reserve the land for the rail project without carrying out an environmental impact assessment. Leopards and other wild animals will lose their habitats and will be disrupted in their movement which will later cause them to venture out of the national park more often than what they already do. It would be better if the forest department steps up their role and at least puts the mitigation measures in place if not ruling out the train route altogether!” says Param Bhagia, a supporter of the cause and the petition.
“On one side we talk about environmental degradation at the UN forums and on the other side all we do is harm them. We claim that they encroach upon our areas what are we doing now? People call it development but this is sheer hooliganism. I am completely against it because development solely does not mean human development and comfort to us as humans. It means development for each and every living being breathing on this planet and comfort to all of them,” says Foram Sanghavi, a supporter of the cause and the petition.