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Bullet train: Japanese agency will not allow destruction of mangroves

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which is helping India build the bullet train, has said they will monitor the entire process of compensatory plantation and survival of mangroves for the project.

Environment groups campaigning against the destruction of 32,044 mangrove trees from the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project drew the attention of JICA and the Japanese government, who are aiding the venture, towards the issue and its impact on the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR).

In an email response to a complaint by environment group The Nature Connect and Shree Ekvira Aai Pratishthan (SEAP), JICA said the nodal authority for the project, National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL), will need to submit quarterly reports of environment monitoring. HT has a copy of JICA’s response.

“JICA will monitor the result, including the transplantation and plantation of mangroves. If JICA judges that there is a need for improvement in a situation, we may ask NHSRCL to take appropriate actions as per JICA guidelines for environmental and social considerations,” read their response to the concerns raised by environmentalists.

The bullet train will run at a speed of 320kmph and cover the Mumbai-Ahmedabad distance in an expected three hours.

The project, estimated to cost ₹1.10 lakh crore, is being built with help from JICA which agreed to fund 81% of the total project cost (₹88,087 crore), through a 50-year loan at an interest rate of 0.1%. The remaining cost will be borne by the Maharashtra and Gujarat government.

“An environment impact study by JICA was crucial for this project. From all indications, it is clear that the project proponents (NHSRCL) do not care for environmental damage,” said BN Kumar, director, The Nature Connect.

NHSRCL said they will abide by JICA’s directions. “As per the supplemental environment impact assessment (SEIA) report of Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Railway Project, NHSRCL will submit a quarterly report to JICA,” said Sushma Gaur, spokesperson, NHSRCL.

On June 25, the Maharashtra transport minister told the legislative Assembly that 54,000 mangroves would be lost for

the project across 13.36 hectares (ha), which was widely criticised by environmentalists and citizens.

HT had reported in July that a reassessment by a team from the Centre, forest department, and NHSRCL had brought down the figure to 32,044 mangroves to be destroyed across 9.8ha.

“We have redesigned a station at Thane, with changes in passenger areas such as the parking area, and passenger handling zone, which have now been moved out of the mangrove region,” said Gaur.

“The location of station is the same, but after this redesign, 12ha of mangroves got reduced to only 3ha, saving 21,000 mangrove trees.”

NHSRCL also plans to plant five times the mangroves lost (1.6 lakh saplings) by depositing money with the mangrove cell for compensatory afforestation.

Environmentalists said these were hollow promises.

“Finding an alternative route is the best solution as the history of replantation of mangroves has been very poor for all infrastructure projects, with less than 10% survival rate,” said Nandkumar Pawar, head, SEAP.

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