A tight slap on those who compromised on forests, wildlife

| MAY 10, 2022, 12:23 AM IST

The Supreme Court’s endorsement of the Central Empowerment Committee (CEC) observation against forest clearances on the double-tracking project comes as a clear rap against the National Board for Wildlife, the State Wildlife Board and other authorities for failing to assess the damage and impact of the project on the fragile eco-system of the Western Ghats. The verdict points to a failure of those at the helm, more especially the wildlife boards, in their solemn duty of being guardians and protectors of biodiversity and wildlife, and exposes a hugely compromised system where individuals have shirked away from their core responsibilities and showed complete disregard to habitat and wildlife.

As per the apex court’s order, the railways are now given a window to reapply for the wildlife board clearance. The question is whether the board will do justice to the environment and act transparently upholding the laws of the land, or whether it will continue to remain compromised trying to push an agenda.

Interestingly, the railways contended before the court that out of the 342 km double track, only 58 km was pending out of which only 34 km were running through National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, with the remaining tracts awaiting resolution of land conflicts. What is surprising is the fact that the railways, while pleading, did not factor in the damage inflicted on the environment, but rather tried to desperately impress on the bench that the project is almost nearing completion.

Panchayat Minister Mauvin Godinho, while reacting to the development contended that some people are getting hyper over any project in the State and went on to explain that the affected portion is only in the Western Ghat while adding that the forest clearances can be reapplied and cleared as well. This is a typical reaction from those who have taken the environment for granted, and from those who are unmoved over issues related to forests and wildlife. That the Supreme Court has found flaws in forest clearances in itself is a slap on the faces of all those who conspired and collaborated to push through the project by hook or by crook.

While railways have been given the liberty to reapply, it would be premature to assume that a reapplication would qualify for an automatic clearance given the sensitive nature of the Western Ghats that the project is trying to penetrate. We hope that while there will be minds at work on how to get going on the project, there is also an application of mind and reconsideration towards protecting the environment and wildlife habitats. We also hope that the wildlife board stands committed to its job of safeguarding forests and their rampant destruction.

Instead of construing this court verdict as a new opportunity and seeking solace in the window given to reapply, authorities must consider this as a mandate against those trying to bulldoze their way through the environment in the name of development while still preaching sustainable development. This is indeed an eye-opener for those in the government who are considering tampering with ecosystems and natural habitats as a way of human life. Now, the wildlife board has to get its act right.

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