The state government has caught itself in a bind by issuing orders to fell over 2,000 trees for the doubling of the Tinaighat-Castlerock section of Hosapete-Vasco railway days after a Central Empowered Committee (CEC) told the Supreme Court doubling "the most inefficient" railway line will cause a disaster in the fragile Western Ghats.
In its April 23 report submitted to the Supreme Court, which is hearing a petition by Goa Foundation, the CEC appointed by the apex court had also recommended that permission for the project granted by the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife should be revoked.
At a time when the matter was sub-judice, the Karnataka Forest Department has given permission to fell 2,278 trees in two separate orders. The order for felling 181 trees was issued on April 28, just five days after the CEC report put a question mark on the project. Two days later, the department went on to give permission for felling 2,097 trees in Kali Tiger Reserve.
Former Environment Secretary and conservationist Yellappa Reddy, who served as conservator of forest in the region, said the department's orders will lead to a disaster as the linear project would affect the environment on multiple fronts.
"The unique ecosystem of the area will be destroyed, while the project work and increased movement of trains will affect wild animal behaviour and lead to fragmentation of the wildlife corridors," he said.
Sreeja Chakraborty of Growthwatch said the Forest department orders were not uploaded on the portal of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change in a deliberate measure to hide the violations from the public.
"The department evaded those who are in touch with them regularly to seek an update on the project. Even the activists who have filed public interest litigation in the Karnataka High Court were not given a copy of the orders which were issued during the lockdown when the people in the state were virtually under a house arrest," she said.
Rajani Santosh, a Jayanagar-based activist, said there was a need to question multilateral funding agencies which support such projects. She noted that Asian Development Bank-funded 200 km of the doubling project while staying away from the 100 km stretch of railway line in the ecosensitive zone.
"The project has been split into two packages for convenience," she said, noting that the funding enabled the destruction of the environment.