Virar-Alibag corridor to eat up 424 hectares of forest

Updated: Jun 26, 2019, 07:38 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav

Forest and mangroves cover across - Tunagareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, SGNP, and Thane creek flamingos sanctuary is likely to go

Virar-Alibag corridor to eat up 424 hectares of forest
Among the four alternatives shortlisted, the MMRDA has chosen the third one (yellow), which it says will cause 'least' damage

Forest cover in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) is once again set to become the victim of infrastructure development. Construction of the much-awaited Virar Alibag Multimodal Corridor road (MMC) will eat into forest cover admeasuring 424 hectares and a proposal in this regard is under consideration with the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).

On March 24, the MMRDA submitted two proposals related to the MMC road project between Navghar in Palghar district to Balavali in Raigad district to the MoEF&CC for securing a wildlife clearance.

The proposal has stated that 424.68 hectares of forest cover will have to make way for the MMC alignment project. It includes patches from the Tunagareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, ESZ of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, deemed ESZ of Tungareswar Wildlife sanctuary, and the Thane creek flamingos sanctuary.

The MMRDA has proposed phase-I construction from Navghar (in north MMR near Vasai-Virar) to Balavali (near NH17) with an aim to provide connectivity between the different areas in MMR so that people can travel to their destinations towards Alibag within a reasonable amount of time, also easing traffic.

The first proposal has stated that 167.88 hectares of mangroves forest patch from the deemed ESZ of Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary will be affected. The second proposal has spoken of 256.79 hectares of forest area — 2.82 hectares from Tungareswar Wildlife Sanctuary in Vasai, and 236.76 hectares from deemed Eco Sensitive Zone (ESZ) of Tungareswar Wildlife sanctuary and 17.20 hectares from ESZ of Sanjay Gandhi National Park - being affected.

Biodiversity-rich region

The Biodiversity Impact Assessment study, conducted by an agency appointed by the MMRDA, has said that there is movement of wild animals including Leopards, Rusty Spotted Cat , Sambar, birds like Brown Fish Owl, Mottled Wood Owl and Butterfly and moths like Blue Mormon (the largest butterfly), Atlas Moth (the largest moth) in the region.

However, no disturbance to wildlife movement will be caused with the project, it said. "The increasing traffic volume and frequent jams on the road stretch has been adding to heavy carbon emission that affects negatively to the protected areas. The MMC project will help reducing traffic which would work as a breather for the present carbon footprint situation. The proposed MMC project has tried minimising the requirement of diversion of forest land," stated the Biodiversity Impact Assessment report.

Environmentalists worry

City-based green activists have been voicing their concerns against the various development projects that are going to eat up the green cover in the MMR. They look at short-term benefits at the cost of rich and important biodiversity, some have alleged.

Kedar Gore, conservationist and director of The Corbett Foundation, said, "Forests are protected under the Constitution of India and are not the government's private property to be hacked and diverted at their will. Forest areas are already so fragmented and such projects will further fragment them with a long-term negative impact on fauna. We are living in an era where forests and wildlife are neglected."

Least harmful way chosen

MMRDA joint project director Dilip Kawatkar said that the MMC project was a crucial one "that will help in solving the commuting woes between Virar and Alibag and will also cut down the travel time reducing air pollution."

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