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Kerala seeks rail line through tunnel in Bandipur

Eco threat
Last Updated : 02 July 2020, 18:28 IST
Last Updated : 02 July 2020, 18:28 IST
Last Updated : 02 July 2020, 18:28 IST
Last Updated : 02 July 2020, 18:28 IST

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Despite strong opposition by environmentalists, the Kerala government has brought back to the table the controversial Thalassery-Mysuru line with an alternative proposal for a tunnel in the ecologically sensitive Bandipur and Nagarahole forests.

Kerala hopes that the broad-gauge line between Thalassery and Mysore will boost the socio-economic development of Kannur and Wayanad and provide a direct rail link from central Malabar to Mysuru and Bangalore.

First proposed more than 50 years ago, the project got a push in early 2010. Southern Railway completed a survey and gave a report for a 299 km railway line to connect the two states. However, as experts and activists red-flagged the enormous damage the project would cause to environment, it was put on the backburner.

In a letter to the state government last month, Kerala Chief Secretary Vishwas Mehta, a new alignment has been proposed.

"The government of Karnataka may convey its in-principle approval for the new alignment between Thalassery and Kadakola, involving a tunnel below the non-forest area between Bandipur National Park and Nagarahole Tiger Reserve," the letter states.

The letter goes on to seek "approval" to conduct helicopter-borne geophysical surveys of the proposed route and field surveys in all the areas "including entry to the forest for survey purpose".

Karnataka has now been asked to pitch in for the project, regarded by activists as a death knell for the rich biodiversity of the protected areas. According to the proposal, the corporation will complete the work, including cost estimates, forecast passenger, and freight traffic. "Govt of Karnataka is also requested to convey its willingness for equity contribution in the SPV for the project," the letter states.

Over the last three years, the Kerala government has begun pushing for the project with new energy. In 2017, Karnataka agreed to allow conducting a survey for the project If doesn't disturb the wildlife areas. The Kerala Rail Development Corporation Ltd (K-Rail) has said the proposed 240 km line is estimated to cost Rs 5,000 crore according to the feasibility report by Konkan Railway Corporation Ltd.

K-Rail stated in its recent newsletter that a detailed study has been conducted for the project and "suggested a common gateway across the Western Ghats in the forest areas of Kerala and Karnataka, to meet the requirements of both Nilambur-Nanjangud and Thalassery–Mysuru broad gauge lines".

State Wildlife Board member Sanjay Gubbi, himself a conservation biologist, said the proposal shows that Kerala was yet to learn from the recent floods. "There is no non-forest area in Bandipur and Nagarahole forests. Such proposals are a disaster for the protected area and cannot be allowed.

To a question, Principal Secretary, Infrastructure Development Department, Kapil Mohan told DH that the proposal has been received but no decision has been taken yet. "They have proposed a new alignment with a tunnel. However, a decision will be taken only after taking into account forest and ecological impact," he said.

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Published 02 July 2020, 17:57 IST

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