Thousands of mangroves will be affected by the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, the Maharashtra government has said. The 508-km line that would cost Rs 1.1 lakh crore would need 270 hectares from Maharashtra, which includes mangrove forests.
Mangroves help prevent flooding and work as a wall of defence in coastal areas. Destruction of mangroves can leave coastal areas exposed and vulnerable to natural disasters.
Maharashtra Transport Minister Diwakar Raote said the government will do its best to ensure the mangroves are not affected. Five saplings will be planted for every mangrove that's affected by the bullet train project, Mr Raote told NDTV. He said the project won't harm the environment or cause any flooding in the long run.
The NHSRCL, the implementing agency of the bullet train project, on Saturday said it has reworked the design of the station in Maharashtra's Thane to reduce the number of affected mangroves from the estimated 53,000 to 32,044.
"That without changing the location of Thane station, in what all ways can we reduce the Mangrove region - this is what we discussed that design with Japanese engineers and modified it accordingly," National High Speed Rail Corp. Ltd managing director Achal Khare said in a statement.
"Passenger areas like the parking area and passenger handling area have now been moved out of the mangrove region. The location of station is the same but after redesigning it, earlier 12 hectare mangrove region was getting affected in Thane, but now only three will get affected. So this way, we have reduced around 21,000 mangroves and now only 32,044 mangroves will get affected from the entire project. Earlier there were around 53,000 mangroves getting affected," Mr Khare said.
Environment activists and the opposition alleged the loss of mangroves would add pressure on the coast as more and more areas are facing extreme weather occurrences.
"There is an environment impact to it and I think the project has been sanctioned without any scrutiny and public debate. There will be environmental consequences. I hope they follow due process of going through the NGT (National Green Tribunal) and getting clearances from the forest ministry," Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan told NDTV.
Experts say mangroves are not like other trees that can be transplanted because of their wide, deep roots.
"Mangroves and vicinity of it is where you get potable water in the future. India's biggest challenge is water today and if you don't conserve your wetlands, you are doomed. So it doesn't have to be the case where nature has to be sacrificed every time. There are ways around it and we are telling government about it," said environmentalist Stalin Dayanand.
The Maharashtra government has made several alterations to the coastal regulation zone for infrastructural and real estate projects.