EnvironmentPolicy MattersWildlife


Meera Bhardwaj:

The NBWL report on Hubballi-Ankola Rail proposal seems an eyewash for giving clearance to a FRESH proposal.

Wildlife activists express their shock and say wildlife experts have in fact, advocated “Doubling of Hubballi-Ankola Rail Line” which will incur diversion of 1000s of hectares of precious primary forests in the World’s Biodiversity Hotspot of Western Ghats.

The 71st Meeting of the Standing Committee of NBWL was held on 29th December, 2022 under the chairmanship of Union Minister for MoEF&CC.

The project proposal involves diversion of an area of 595.64 ha of forest land for the construction of a new broad gauge railway line from Hubballi-Ankola passing through elephant corridors and important tiger corridors connecting Kali Tiger Reserve with Sharavathi Sanctuary in Karnataka.

Two wildlife experts and members of the Standing Committee have endorsed the Hubballi-Ankola rail line implementation & recommended the user agency to go for a double track instead of a single track.

Both the wildlife experts openly bat for a double track and commend railways for its transportation of goods and claim it is accident free forgetting the national statistics of how many elephants and other wildlife are killed on rail track annually in the country. They highlight how easy the gradient is for construction forgetting it passes through primary, verdant forests and wildlife corridors in the Western Ghats.

Elephant expert from IISc, Dr Sukumar, Member, NBWL recommends, “The project may in fact be for a double line. The gradient of Hubballi-Ankola railway line is 1:100 gradient which is an easy gradient for railways. This railway line has the potential of connecting right across the central part of peninsular India, not only the Karwar Port but also the Naval Base. This project with 1:100 gradient can potentially become the major infrastructure for transport across the Western Ghats.”

Since the rail project will take 8 years for construction, the second wildlife expert of the standing committee Dr H. S. Singh, Member, NBWL too recommends a double track.

He adds, “This is being a more suitable site, there would be demand for doubling of the railway line soon. Therefore, if approval must be given, it should be for the doubling of railway line. Further, 65% of the project area would involve slope cutting of up to 10 metres which can also be converted into tunnels.”

Expressing their total dismay on the report, activists say the Karnataka High Court had asked for an impartial assessment of the impact of this rail line on wildlife and ecology of this area but instead of doing such an assessment – the wildlife experts have forgotten their terms of reference and advised a double track in these primary forests which is already battling a plethora of linear structures, national and defence projects.

Overlooking the serious consequences of this rail project which has been rejected 11 times and the CEC, Supreme Court too shunning it in toto, Sukumar states they had taken a more balanced view in terms of the need for connectivity between the coastal area and the hinterland.

On his part, the ADG(F), FC Wing admits the project bifurcates the tiger corridor and there is also proposal for road widening. There is a need for integrated plan for this important tiger corridor area. Further, proposed mitigation measures for wildlife movement are not sufficient. So, the proposal is not acceptable in the present form and requires lot of modifications, he adds.

The Committee submitted the above report to the MoEF&CC on 26.12.2022. Since, it found certain gaps/discrepancies in the present project proposal, they recommended a fresh proposal.