The southern bench of National Green Tribunal registered a suo motu case and issued notices to Tamil Nadu government, Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL), State forest department and others concerned over construction of metro rail phase-2 project, which proposes to pass through biodiversity rich Nanmangalam reserve forest.
Based on an article published in The New Indian Express last month, the bench comprising judicial member Justice K Ramakrishnan and expert member K Satyagopal directed Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) Chennai to submit a report as to whether any proposal pertaining to diversion of Nanmangalam reserve forest for construction of Chennai metro rail (non-forest purpose) was pending before the forest department.
“If so, what is the stage and whether any permission has already been recommended or not. Also, we direct the Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) to submit a report regarding steps taken by them and its stage of implementation,” NGT bench said.
The tribunal directed the parties to file their independent statements and reports by June 29.
The Nanmangalam reserve forest, spanning around 320 hectares is located along the Tambaram-Velachery and predominantly a scrub jungle with rich flora and fauna. It is home to over 120 species of birds and 400 species of plants. The reserve forest’s star attraction is the great horned owl or Indian Eagle Owl. Nanmangalam forest is the only site where this bird breeds in Chennai.
Under Phase-2, CMRL is taking up 118.9 km of metro rail network split into three corridors (C3, C4 and C5). C3 is 45.8 km (Madhavaram-SIPCOT), C4 is 26.1 km (Lighthouse-Poonamallee Bypass) and C5 is 47 km rail network (Madhavaram-Sholinganallur). The last corridor (C5) will be passing through Nanmangalam reserve forest.
In its defence, CMRL officials claim that most of the phase-2 alignment passes through existing roads wherever feasible Right of Way (ROW) is available. “However, as the alignment passes beyond Vellakal along Medavakkam Koot road, the ROW being very less (8 m to 9 m). It is not feasible to construct the piers of the corridor within the available ROW and the same was confirmed with highways after due discussions. No other government/private land is available at this location. Thus, the only option available to CMRL is to run the alignment along the strip of land in the Nangamangalam forest area,” CMRL said.
The total forest land required is 15,685.23 sq.m (1.569 hectares). CMRL officials said, since the route was decided based on several studies, no alternative alignment is available.
Several environmentalists have expressed concern saying Nanmangalam forest should be left alone as it is one of the last surviving green patches for Chennai.