With the 13th Karnataka State Wildlife Board meeting scheduled for the coming week, wildlife conservationists, forest officials and activists have expressed serious concern on the issue of the Hubballi-Ankola rail line project being cleared. This proposal has bounced back even after being rejected many times by various state and Central authorities.
The 20-year-old Hubballi-Ankola rail project will require the diversion of 727 hectares of pristine evergreen and semi-deciduous forests and 2.2 lakh trees in Karwar, Yellapur and Dharwad will need to be felled. “These forest lands fall in the ecologically fragile Western Ghats which is home to rare and endangered flora and fauna. If the project is cleared, it will destroy the natural and perennial flow of many tributaries and rivers in the Kali Valley, thereby creating havoc in the natural ecosystem of Karnataka and leading to climatic changes,” said forest officials.
A former chief wildlife warden, who has taken the lead in opposing the project, said, “After the notification of Kali Tiger Reserve (KTR) in 2008, there was focused conservation activity and one could see a visual change with excellent bamboo regeneration. In the next decade or two, KTR will be the best habitat for tigers and elephants. Kali Valley being the notified ESZ for KTR, it falls on the northern side of the valley while the ‘rail alignment’ is on the southern side. After Kodasalli/Kadra dams and Kaiga project, there has been a virtual eco-adaptation in the entire landscape. This rail line will disturb the wildlife and the entire valley, which is the catchment area for the Kali river. The rail project should be dumped once and for all.”
Further, studies and analysis done by Central and state agencies have stated that with the Ballari iron ore production at a standstill, this rail line will just be a passenger link. With three more rail links in this region and a highway, the project does not serve any purpose. The Vasco Line is just 20 km away from Karwar port and can serve any future ore transportation needs, he adds. A senior forest official added, “It was the Indian Institute of Science’s (IISc) technical report which opened a shut case. They played a dubious role by giving a set of non-implementable mitigation measures to please the then government. Based on this, the then PCCF recommended the project in 2012. However, earlier IISc (2011) studies had warned the rail line would cause heavy deforestation. Based on their study in Kali basin and central Western Ghats, they said there were already declining water levels in many rivers.”