Rs 5,000-crore project to connect Khopoli to Kusgaon on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway; it will shave off around 25 minutes from the travel time; environmentalists upset at loss of green cover.
Nearly 75 hectares of forest land will soon make way for the building of the ‘missing link’ of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. The 13.3-km link will connect Khopoli through an interchange to Kusgaon at the Pune end of the Expressway. The link is expected to reduce travel time between Mumbai and Pune by around 25 minutes.
The project, which will be executed by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), was cleared by the cabinet sub-committee last week. The cost of the project is approximately Rs 5,000 crore.
The MSRDC had appointed a technical advisory committee, which suggested the construction of the ‘missing link’. The 19-km distance between Khopoli and Sinhagad will be reduced to 6 km after construction of the link, and around 25 minutes will also be saved. The link will have two tunnels and two viaducts, including the longest viaduct in Asia
According to the presentation submitted to the government, 128 hectares of land comes under the project’s right of way, out of which 74.71hectares of forest land, 5.6860 hectares of private forest land and 0.4743 hectares of private land will have to be acquired.
The additional principal chief conservator of forest, Nagpur has appointed chief conservator of forest, Pune, as the liaison officer for this proposal. MSRDC chief engineer Shankar Dhote said that the proposal was now in the office of the chief conservator of wildlife.
Activists are not happy with the plan to cut into forest land. Environmentalist Bittu Sahgal of Sanctuary Nature Foundation said, “The Mumbai Pune Expressway caused massive damage to the biodiversity of Western Ghats, particularly the alignment that passed through Father Santa Pao sanctuary. If they continue to cause further damage to the ghats, it will seriously affect the water security of Maharashtra.”
Environmentalist D Stalin of NGO Vanashakti, which has been at the forefront of the Save Aarey movement, said, “The state continues to lose forests and trees at an alarming rate. The time has come to seriously rethink such destructive projects. This habit of treating loss of trees as insignificant is damaging the environment irreparably.”
Environmentalist Debi Goenka said that the Bombay Environmental Action Group had opposed the Expressway and the government had justified it by saying that it was needed for safety issues and to avoid traffic jams. “Now more and more people are killed every year on the E-way. At the end of the day, the government must realise that forest can’t be destroyed,” he said.