Highway to doom for Kodagu, W Ghats

The decision to widen the two-lane National Highway-245 between Kushalnagar and Madikeri in Kodagu district to four lanes is a sure recipe for disaster as it involves felling thousands of mature trees in the ecologically-sensitive Western Ghats. The 30-km stretch passes through Anecad—an elephant habitat—and thickly wooded coffee plantations. Elephants, in the absence of fodder in forests, have made estates their new home and widening the road will further shrink their territory, leading to an increase in man-animal conflict. Mindless destruction of green cover in Kodagu, the principal catchment area of Cauvery, will besides polluting the river at source also lead to a severe shortage of water for consumptive, irrigation and power generation purposes. Nature has already sounded the first warning bell with the recent floods and landslides claiming about 18 lives and devouring over 2,000 houses and large tracts of cultivated land in the northern parts of the district. Disturbing the slopes through road-widening and uprooting trees threatens to loosen the soil and cause unmitigated suffering in this landslide-prone region.

The proposal of the National Highway Authority of India includes widening the road by 70 metres in the plains and 45 metres in the hills, thus expanding the existing road by 6-10 times. The present road more than meets the day-to-day requirements of the local people and a wide carriageway is intended only to serve the purpose of weekend tourists, besides profiting the timber mafia. Kodagu is burdened with holidaymakers much beyond its carrying capacity and the uncontrolled tourist flow could lead to a catastrophe in the future, with shaded coffee estates and wetlands already paving way for resorts and house sites.

Coming close on the heels of a large number of trees being cut sometime ago to draw a high-tension power line to Kerala and the proposal to lay two railway lines through the heart of the district, the road-widening project will spell doom for Kodagu, which is still one of the best preserved spots of the Western Ghats. The government can easily reduce the pressure on the National Highway by strengthening under-utilised interior roads and diverting traffic through them. While most hill stations across the world swear by two-lane roads, keeping the ecology in mind, it is a criminal waste of resources to sink over Rs 1,500 crore on a project which is detrimental to the interests of the district, while people hit by the recent natural calamity are crying for funds to rebuild their homes, villages and lives.

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