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Railway freight link a fright for sanctuary
- State rejects tracks plan that will disturb sylvan Gautam Buddha animal habitat in Hazaribagh

Ranchi, Dec. 19: The state forest department has decided to show a red flag to the proposed eastern freight corridor of Indian Railways, which if implemented in its present form, will sound the death knell to Gautam Buddha Wildlife Sanctuary that lies on the Jharkhand-Bihar border.

Tomorrow, New-Delhi-based officials from Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Ltd (DFCCIL), a Union ministry of railways undertaking, are expected to reach Ranchi and meet chief wildlife warden A.K. Mishra to discuss the Rs 24,000-crore project.

Traditionally, goods and passenger trains run on the same tracks in India. DFCCIL works on the logic that dedicated routes for goods trains — to transport coal, steel, foodgrain, cement, fertilisers, limestone and others — will enable railways to better serve its customers.

Monitored by the Prime Minister’s Office and eyeing a 2015 deadline, the freight corridor corporation’s ambitious 1,839km-long eastern corridor has two distinct segments — an electrified double-track segment of 1,392km between Bengal (Dankuni) and Uttar Pradesh (Khurja) as well as a single-track counterpart of 447km between Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.

According to plan, the double-track segment will affect Jharkhand as it will pass through Chouparan in Hazaribagh where the sanctuary is located as well as forest patches in Dhanbad, Giridih and Koderma.

A third of the protected habitat, amounting to some 105sqkm, falls in Hazaribagh’s Chouparan, while the bulk of it is in Gaya, Bihar.

Boars, bears and various species of deer stay in Gautam Buddha park. Leopard sightings used to be common in the past but have become rare now.

DFCCIL, which proposed to lay the link parallel to the GT road, stressed on Gomoh, Bagodar-Barkatta-Barhi-Chouparan, Gaya-Mugalsarai and beyond. A transit junction is also planned in Gomoh, 45km from Hazaribagh.

However, the animal habitat falls in the Chouparan-Gaya area.

“The proposed freight corridor will claw out 25sqkm from Jharkhand’s portion of the sanctuary. This proposal can’t be allowed,” chief wildlife warden Mishra said.

He added he had appraised DFCCIL officials of an alternative route.

“We suggested a rail link parallel to the existing Koderma-Gaya route. The existing Koderma-Gaya link is 5km from Koderma sanctuary and roughly over 25km from Gautam Buddha sanctuary,” he added.

Mishra said they suggested this alternative route to DFCCIL officials to avoid legalities involved with wildlife clearances.

“The National Wildlife Board will certainly not clear the corridor proposal in its present form,” he added.

However, a forest department source who did want to be named said the DFCCIL representatives did not show enthusiasm for the proposed alternative route.

“On our proposed route, they said more than 90 per cent was raiyati land and acquiring it would pose serious financial and practical hassles,” he said.