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  • In the recent judgment, the Hon’ble Supreme Court set aside the proposed wildlife clearance for doubling the existing railway line from Castlerock (Karnataka) to Kulem (Goa) recommended by the Standing Committee of NBWL.
  • The Ministry of Railways (RVNL), in T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v Union of India, had failed to provide any substantial basis for the requirement of doubling the railway line by addressing the impact on the habitat and damage caused to the environment.
  • The present appeal was filed by Central Empowered Committee as they were not satisfied with the decision of the Standing Committee of NBWL.
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  • In its 56th meeting, the Standing Committee of NBWL recommended the proposal for wildlife clearance for the doubling of an existing railway line from Castlerock (Karnataka) to Kule (Goa) which involved certain areas of protected and non-protected forest reserved area of Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary.
  • The Goa Foundation filed an application before the CEC and stated that the Standing Committee of NBWL’s recommendation violated the order passed by the Supreme Court.
  • RVNL stated before the CEC that the contentions raised by Goa Foundation were without merit. According to RVNL, the doubling of the railway line would be a gamechanger in the economic development of the southwestern part of India.
  • The CEC averred that the track-doubling was unnecessary since both Goa and Karnataka have a good road network. The CEC upheld that the existing Konkan Railway line gives excellent connectivity between the northern and southern parts of India. The proposed doubling of the railway line between Karnataka and Goa would not have any positive impact on the gradient and it will continue to operate at the same ‘inefficient level’.
  • The CEC also mentioned difficult terrain having sharp curves and gradients that the construction would bring about and invite a great disaster to the sensitive areas of Western Ghats.
  • The bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao, B R Gavai, and Aniruddha Bose emphasized on sustainable development means development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.
  • Hence, a balance should be made between the two, and one should not hamper the other. In Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum v Union Of India, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held the ‘Precautionary Principle’ is an essential feature of the principle of sustainable development and elaborated the meaning of the precautionary principle in great detail.
  • The court upheld the recommendation made by CEC and stated that the landscape through which the railway line was proposed to pass was an important tiger corridor, connecting Goa, Karnataka, and Maharashtra. The court took into consideration the account of actual loss of wildlife habitat by the construction activity for doubling the railway line for which heavy machines and crusher units would be established for dumping construction material.
  • The SC set aside the recommendation of RVNL of doubling the railway line and cancel the construction.
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