Green Minute News
Conservationists, scientists, wildlife biologists, activists, academicians, engineers, experts and people from all walks of life across the country have raised serious concerns and objections on India’s most controversial project, the Hubballi-Ankola Railway Line project. This comes as an appeal to all the authorities concerned, ahead of the Karnataka High Court hearing on this project on the 14th of this month. On 18th of last month, the High Court had stayed the decision of the Karnataka State Board of Wildlife which had approved the project despite opposition from the board members.
A group of 120 concerned ecologists and activists, including several residents of the affected districts have written to Prakash Javadekar, Union Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change asking the National Board for Wildlife to reject the proposal for the Hubballi– Ankola Railway Line. This Railway Line is set to pass through the ecologically sensitive and one of the World’s Biodiversity Hotspots, the Western Ghats region, threatening 1.58 lakh trees and it’s fragile habitat. This big group has also appealed to the Chief Minister of Karnataka as well as the National Tiger Conservation Authority, expressing their serious concerns about ecological costs of this project.
STATE TURNS A DEAF EAR
On 20 March, 2020, the State Wildlife Board Chairman had abruptly approved the proposal for the Railway Line, reversing the Board’s previous decision to reject the project. The controversial project which has been rejected by all central and state agencies now awaits the approval of the National Board for Wildlife. On 18 June 2020, however, the High Court issued a stay on all proceedings pertaining to the Railway Project, questioning the legality of the decision-making process adopted by the State Board for Wildlife.
The State government, as it mulls legal options to vacate the stay order, has turned a deaf eye to all voices of opposition and reasoning. An online petition against the project has garnered over 15,000 signatures, and more than 2800 people have sent mails to authorities against the project, but their concerns have gone unacknowledged. Conservationists are also writing to the authorities in hopes of reiterating the impact, the project will have on the local population and biodiversity of the region.
Vijay Nishanth of Project Vruksha Foundation who has filed a public interest litigation on this issue says the ecological costs of this rail project is so massive that it cannot be regained through any mitigation measures as claimed by government based on IISc technical report. He adds, “The impact will be so huge that none of us can even measure or ascertain the consequences of such a project on the unique ecosystem of Western Ghats which is home to many RET species. Felling of lakhs of trees for this project will lead to complete destruction of the ecosystem and what Nature has created can Never be done by man. The clearance of many linear projects in the Western Ghats in the last few decades has already resulted in untold sufferings in the form of floods, landslides, etc.”
IUCN SPECIES PROTECTION
Anindya Sinha, a former Member of Karnataka State Wildlife Board points out how the project area is home to over 300 species of animals that come under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. “Several of these species are endangered and are enshrined government protection under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972” she points out.
“Deforestation will affect the ability of forests to regulate rainfall, control erosion and sequester carbon,” points out Prof. Harini Nagendra, Bengaluru based ecologist, which can accelerate the effects of climate change.
Omkar Pai, naturalist and researcher based in Uttara Kannada region, where this project will pass through, mentions how the “immediate direct benefits to the local communities by implementing this project is minimal” since a report by the National Board for Wildlife mentions that “no passenger trains will ply over along this track”.
Pai fears that deforestation will bring to Uttara Kannada disastrous events similar to the flooding and landslides experienced in Kerala and parts of Karnataka in recent years. “This project will also affect the catchment areas of the Kaali and the Gangavalli rivers” he says, and worries this will worsen the existing water shortages the region is facing.
FOREST DWELLERS’ PLIGHT
Dr. Jayanand Derekar, Wildlife Conservationist and member of the Kunbi tribe of Uttara Kannada details how “forest dwelling communities like Gowlis, Siddis, Kunbis, Halakkivokkaligas depend on collected forest produce like honey, wax, shigekai, among others.”
The total economic value coming from the affected forest area is estimated to be Rs. 297 Hundred Crore per year, which stands to be lost due to this project, he explains in the letter.
HUGE ECOLOGICAL DAMAGES
Divya Mudappa, Senior Ecologist, stresses that no amount of mitigation can compensate the huge cost of ecological damage this Project will have on the Western Ghats. Compensatory afforestation is insufficient because “Forests, especially global biodiversity hotspots like the Western Ghats are complex networks of not just trees but also small plants, creepers, insects, fungi, mammals, birds and other living beings. The combined… interaction of all these different species is essential for maintaining critical ecosystem functions of the forest” she elaborates.
The letter also highlights the history of afforestation in this country, fraught with problems like occupation of indigenous lands, improper implementation and introduction of non-local exotic species. Such plantations can anyways never replicate the crucial functions an ecosystem that has taken millions of years to evolve performs, it points out.
BALLARI MINING BAN
A project that was originally proposed because of transporting iron ore from Bellary to the Western Coast, the Hubballi Ankola Railway Line project has no use now that mining has been banned in the Ballari region, says Basvaraj Bagewadi a former Municipal Officer from Dharwad.
“Other existing and alternate routes can thus accommodate the existing and anticipated traffic in the region” he adds. He thus joins the hundred and nineteen other Conservationists in appealing to the National Board for Wildlife that the Hubballi Ankola Project be rejected, so that “our Western Ghats can be saved”.
Two public interest litigations have been filed questioning the approval given by the state board of wildlife – one by Vijay Nishanth, Project Vruksha Foundation and a second one by Giridhar Kulkarni. The next hearing on the matter is on July 14.