India’s environment ministry has exempted 13 pending railway projects, worth Rs 19,400 crore ($2.8 billion) and spread over 800 hectares of land, from the process of seeking forest permits, according to official documents.
These clearances could adversely impact a national park, a tiger reserve, a tiger corridor and wildlife sanctuaries across the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa.
The railway ministry, including minister of railways Piyush Goyal, and the Railway Board, argued that this land was owned by the railways before 1980, the year the Forest (Conservation) Act (FCA), was passed, and so the Act did not apply to this land, according to railway and environment ministry documents accessed by IndiaSpend under the Right to Information Act.
The railway ministry declined comment over the phone. We await a response to a detailed questionnaire emailed on 18 July, 2019, to the railway ministry. The story will be updated if and when we receive a response.