Western Ghats at Risk: The Hubballi-Ankola Rail Project

Image Source: Deccan Herald

This controversial railway project received its clearance on the 20th of March by the Karnataka State Wildlife Board (KSWB). The proposed project is said to pass through the Western Ghats and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It will cause the felling of 2.2 lacs trees. This move was opposed by the members of the KSWB. A report submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) claimed that nearly 80% of the project passes through dense forest lands. This project will adversely impact the flora and fauna of the Western Ghats. The line is said to pass through a myriad of forests including evergreen, semi-evergreen, moist-deciduous and dry deciduous with a dense canopy. Adding to this, the project will also have an impact on the rainfall in the area. Disruption of vegetation in these areas will lead to erratic rainfall and leave no scope for rainwater to percolate into the soil. This will lead to wide-scale soil erosion. That will directly lead to reduced crop yields and subsequent food shortage. The anthropogenic factors in the area led to a reduction in the forest cover from 98.7% to 83.14% by 2010. This railway line if implemented will further reduce this number by a galloping 16.23%. Further, the construction of this railway line will increase the chances of a landslide in North Karnataka by 96%. It will also induce the loss of 2.5 lac ton of carbon removal due to the loss of vegetation in the area. Deforestation in this area might also lead to a flooding and droughts in the Ghats.

On the 18th of June, the Karnataka HC restrained authorities from taking any action on this controversial project. On the 14th of July, the interim relief granted earlier was extended. A division bench passed the order while hearing a PIL filed by the Project Vruksha Foundation. It said that no steps shall be taken in pursuance of the permission granted by the KSWB to create a diversion of 595.64 hectares of forest land to construct the railway line. The petitioner also submitted that the area falls under the Eco-sensitive zone of the Kali Tiger Reserve which also cuts across the elephant and tiger corridor. The plea prays for quashing the decision taken by KSWB granting wildlife clearance to the project.

This project needs the to be stooped due to the severe ecological costs involved and has received active criticism from environmentalists.

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