Throwing all environment concerns to the wind, the Project Governing Board (PGB) of the state government on Friday gave the go-ahead for developing the controversial Mysore-Manananthavadi Road through the Nagarahole National Park.
The rationale behind the PGB’s decision appears to have been propelled by its bid to secure World Bank funds for the government’s ambitious state highways project. In its meeting chaired by State Chief Secretary S V Ranganath, PGB decided to develop the 10-km stretch of the 34.05 km route on State Highway 17D so that the Public Workds Department (PWD) could submit the project completion report to the World Bank which is funding the programme under the Karnataka State Highway Improvement Project I (KSHIP I).
The World Bank has refused to release funds for KSHIP II unless KSHIP I is completed.
The PWD wants to upgrade nearly 2,381 km of road under KSHIP II at a cost of Rs 6,000 crore.
It is seeking nearly Rs 3,000 crore from the World Bank as loan for this purpose. For KSHIP I, the World Bank had lent the State Government Rs 1,635 crore.
The PGB’s decision is being seen as step to brazen itself out of a legal situation. The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court had ordered suspension of the project following opposition from environmentalists and wildlife activists in March 2009. The CEC had directed the government to explore alternative routes in the interest of the National Park.
Environmentalists claimed that hundreds of wild animals at Nagarahole National Park were getting killed due to the heavy flow of vehicular traffic on the road.
The CEC had also constituted a Project Monitoring Committee (PMC), headed by the principal secretary to the State Department of Forest and Ecology, that had subsequently recommended diversion of the original alignment between Dammanakatte and Udburu, outside the National Park limits.
“The alternative stretch passing through Dammanakatte, Hosaholalu, K R Pura, Magge, Malali, N Belthur, Kharapura, Gundattur and Udburu villages — outside the national park — is only three km more than the original alignment, sources said. Moreover, the alternative route provides easy access to nearly 20,000 villagers to nearby towns and they can directly market their agriculture produce there,” they said.
Ban on night traffic
The PMC had held that once the Mysore-Mananthavadi road is developed, traffic density will multiply causing damage to the park’s fragile ecology. The route is now used for transporting timber, sand, vegetables and other goods between Karnataka and Kerala. In fact, the Mysore district administration has imposed a ban on night traffic on the road to protect wildlife.
The PWD can change the alignment, if necessary. But it is reluctant to do so as it will involve a cumbersome process to get the clearances once again. It also means further delay in KSHIP II, officials explained.
When contacted, KSHIP Project Director Krishna Reddy, who is also a PGB member, said the CEC had only asked the authorities to explore alternative routes and never directed stopping work on the original alignment. “We are taking steps to mitigate the damage to wildlife by putting up road humps, speed breakers and constructing animal passage corridors along the stretch, in accordance with the PMC’s recommendations,” he added.