Scrap rail plan to Madikeri

The Centre’s green signal to the much-opposed railway line between Mysuru and Madikeri is sure to sound the death knell of the eco-sensitive Kodagu district in the fragile Western Ghats, which is already crumbling under the weight of over-tourism. The decision to go ahead with the first phase of the project comes as a surprise as the then minister of state for Railways Rajen Gohain had informed Parliament in December last year that the proposal to establish the rail line had been dropped as it was expected to be “unremunerative” and that there was no operational and financial justification for the Railways to take it up. The Centre’s U-turn became public after Mysuru-Kodagu MP Pratap Simha released a letter written by him thanking Railway Minister Piyush Goyal for approving the first phase of the project between Mysuru and Kushalnagar, a border town of Kodagu, at a cost of Rs 1,854 crore. The second part of the project is from Kushalnagar to Madikeri. Apparently, Simha, who attended a protest called by several environmental groups led by the Coorg Wildlife Society in Mysuru last year to oppose the project, has been secretly working towards the project’s fruition, as his letter reveals — a clear case of the honourable MP running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.

In his letter, Simha also makes a case for extending the line up to Madikeri, which would involve felling lakhs of mature trees through a 31-km thickly wooded, hilly terrain. While there is a growing demand to cap tourist footfall, which is currently beyond the district’s carrying capacity, the MP has taken the diametrically opposite view by batting for boosting tourism through the rail line. Given the negative environmental impact, the local people have been strident in their protest for many decades now, and Simha’s decision to push a project that nobody wants has raised several suspicions. After all, the project will only benefit the contractor, timber and real estate lobbies from outside the district. The MP and the elected representatives of Kodagu who belong to the BJP have betrayed the voters who trusted them to protect the interests of the district.

The rail line, coupled with another project which involves widening the highway between Kushalnagar and Madikeri, holds dangerous prospects for the district which witnessed large-scale devastation due to nature’s fury last year. Kodagu is the principal catchment area of the Cauvery, the lifeline of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, which also meets 80% of Bengaluru’s water needs. The rail line is a recipe for disaster and the Railway minister should immediately scrap the project which, by the admission of his own ministry, is unviable and unfeasible.

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