Red-flagged 11 times over green concerns, but Karnataka rail project proposal may get bigger

NBWL expert members suggest site ‘suitable’ for doubling of Hubballi-Ankola rail line. Original proposal mentions a single track.

WrittenBy:Shivnarayan Rajpurohit
Date:
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Beyond wildlife

Wildlife experts and environment officials from Karnataka in 2020 flagged other costs at the 13th meeting of the state wildlife board in 2020. They said the proposed area falls under the catchment area of the Kali river, a major source of drinking water in Uttara Kannada district. They said the project may lead to a water crisis in the district. 

They also wondered if the project is futile when there is a national highway between Hubballi and coastal Ankola, which has been widened, and an existing rail network. 

The new rail line could save two hours of travel time. However, the proposal was unanimously rejected. 

Just nine days later, at the 14th meeting, the state government cleared the project despite adverse remarks from wildlife experts and environment ministry officials. There were six special invitees, including state ministers of industries, labour, sugar and public enterprise, and only the rail project was discussed. NGO Project Vruksha Foundation challenged the wildlife clearance by the SBWL in the Karnataka High Court the same year, saying the approval was against the Wildlife Protection Act.

The NGO’s founder Vijay Nishanth told Newslaundry that the Joshimath crisis should serve as an eye-opener for other projects in eco-sensitive areas. “If the project goes ahead despite so many rejections, the next generation will not forgive us.” 

Praveen Bhargav, managing trustee of Wildlife First and former NBWL member, said redundant parallel highways and roads, sometimes within 10 km of each other, are being “pushed through under the façade of development”. “A direct consequence of this is that biodiversity hotspots such as the Western Ghats are getting fragmented, which is scientifically established as the most serious threat. This does not mean that there must be a total moratorium on such linear intrusions but surely the government must seriously consider and apply the best knowledge to weed out redundant projects and apply the best mitigative measures if the project is absolutely necessary.”

Citing the 2015 report of the Central Empowered Committee formed by the Supreme Court, Bhargav wondered if the rail line is needed when there is already an existing highway and a rail line.

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article imageProjects worth over Rs 12,000 crore: Joshimath’s journey from ‘development’ to disaster
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