Mumbai: As many as 331 families will be displaced and 5,135 trees will be felled for the upcoming 127-km-long Virar-Alibaug Multi-modal Corridor, connecting Navghar in Virar to Chirner in Uran.
This month, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) has submitted a proposal to the state forest department, seeking to divert a total of 221 hectares of forest land — equalling the size of twenty-two Azad Maidans — across Palghar, Thane and Raigad districts to make way for the project.
Notably, just over three hectares of forest land belonging to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Thane, and 83 hectares of mangroves across the districts, will be diverted for this corridor, which promises to improve connectivity across six major growth centres including Vasai-Virar, Bhiwandi, Kalyan-Dombivali, Panvel, Taloja and Uran.
“The corridor will also provide much-needed connectivity with the upcoming Navi Mumbai International Airport and beyond, all the way to the JNPT Port in Uran. Projects like the Mumbai-Vadodara Expressway, the Trans Harbour Link, and the Dedicated Freight Corridor, will be connected with it,” said an executive engineer with the MSRDC, who is involved with the project. He also shared that the travel time between Virar and Alibaug will be cut by 50%.
Crucially, however, this project will fragment an important wildlife passageway between SGNP and Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary (TWLS), which exists as a “chicken neck corridor” near Nangla forest round in the Yeoor Range of SGNP. Last year, researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society successfully monitored the path of male leopard L93 — nicknamed ‘Maharaja’ — across this corridor, which is currently bifurcated by the Chindhoti-Bhiwani road and a parallel, single-line railway track.
Forest department officials and researchers pointed out that the particular area chosen by L93 to cross over into Tungareshwar is about to undergo a rapid urban transformation, with three major infra projects set to come up in the area, including the MSRDC’s Virar-Alibaug multi-modal corridor, the High-Speed Rail Corporation’s Diva-Panvel bullet train line, and Delhi-Mumbai dedicated freight corridor.
“Of these, the latter two have already been given forest and wildlife clearance, while the multi-modal corridor’s clearances are being processed. The project proponents have agreed to jointly build a 1-km long, 30-metre-wide overpass for animals across this corridor between SGNP and TWLS, and two underpasses as well,” said G Mallikarjuna, CCF, SGNP. This mitigating measure had been proposed by a state wildlife board sub-committee in January 2020.