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Green glare on new rail link - Minister cites threat to wildlife to oppose train lines to bhutan

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By AVIJIT SINHA
  • Published 30.11.10
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Siliguri, Nov. 29: The state forest department will oppose any move by the railways to extend the Dooars rail route to Bhutan as it will pose threats to the wildlife, minister Ananta Roy has said.

The opposition from the government came close on the heels of the deaths of seven elephants on the Dooars rail tracks on September 22.

The Northeast Frontier Railway had planned to extend the railway lines from Banarhat and Hashimara to Samtse and Phuentsholing in Bhutan following an agreement between the two countries.

“We will oppose any move by the railways to extend the network to the bordering towns of Bhutan because the alignment is through the forests and the elephant corridors. If train services start on these routes (Banarhat-Samtse and Hashimara-Phuentsholing), more animals, particularly elephants, will be hit by trains,” Roy told The Telegraph. “Under the rules, the railways will have to obtain permission from the Supreme Court if it want to construct lines in forest areas.”

The minister, however, did not elaborate much on the rules.

In 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Bhutan king had signed an agreement to extend the railway link to the Himalayan kingdom as a gesture of friendship to mark the golden jubilee of Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to Bhutan. It was decided that the lines would be extended from five stations — the other three routes being Kokrajhar-Gelephu, Pathsala-Naglam and Rangia-Samdrupjongkhar via Darrang, all originating from Assam.

Railway officials said the survey on the three stretches of Assam was complete but a similar exercise in Bengal was held up because of land encroachment.

“We own land on the two stretches (of Bengal) but they are already encroached upon by a number of families. When we discussed the project with the district magistrate of Jalpaiguri and the divisional commissioner of Jalpaiguri, we were assured that an alternative land would be provided,” said S. Singh, the divisional railway manager of Alipurduar which falls under the NFR. “We agreed to it but now we have no clue about the statements made by the forest department.”

Residents of the Dooars, who are unhappy with the consistent campaign by state ministers to regulate movement of trains and divert some from the Dooars route to stop elephant deaths on tracks, have described the opposition by the forest department as another conspiracy.

“The state government is trying to derail a railway project out of political vengeance using the wildlife as an excuse. The forest department has failed miserably to protect the wildlife and is now trying to hide its failure and create hindrance for the railways,” said Prabhat Dey, the secretary of the Dooars East West Corridor Movement Committee. “We will, however, not tolerate such political interferences that can stop the development process in the Dooars.”