Forest clearance
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Indian government ignored NTCA warning that Sagarmala plan with forest clearance is bad for Western Ghats biodiversity

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The Indian government environment ministry issued its in-principle forest clearance in February 2021. This clearance was to the Indian railways for adding a second track. This is for the railway line connecting Goa and Karnataka. The track goes through the dense forests of the Western Ghats. It includes the Kali Tiger Reserve in Karnataka. It also goes through forests near Mollem in Goa. The clearance allows to fell at least 22,000 trees in the forests.

Now, a petition challenging the project with forest clearance in the Karnataka high court has presented government records. This suggest that approval to the project had ignored warnings. These warnings were made by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). This is the government agency tasked with protecting tigers.

The report of the NTCA from July 2020 had said that the forest clearance project could affect prime tiger habitat. It can also “damage the integrity of the last remaining wilderness of the Western Ghats”. It criticised the environmental impact assessment of the project. This was done by researchers at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. They were being biased to the railways. It also said that the Railways plans to cut down more trees. Much more than it had declared in its clearance application.

The records further show that the observations of the NTCA were suppressed by the NTCA’s own headquarters. The NTCA presented only a short version of the report to the National Board for Wildlife (NBW). The NBW eventually issued wildlife clearance to the project in January 2021.