Political pressure behind project sanctions

Giving a reprieve for the ecologically fragile landscape in 2013, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC ) had ordered a blanket ban on developmental activities like mining and quarrying in the sensitive areas of Western Ghats. While almost all states adhered to the order, activities like widening of roads, building of elevated roads, developing rail network and transmission line work gained momentum in the name ‘development’. Helping the projects clear all decks at the government level, a set of powerful lobbies has raised the hood.

Backed by political clout and intense support, several projects which hitherto remained on paper are all of a sudden turning out to be a reality. The sudden approval of Hubballi-Ankola Railway Line is a classic example of government’s eagerness to give the green signal for these linear projects along the Western Ghats. Pushing for the Hubballi-Ankola railway link despite the stiff opposition from the Forest Department, the state government had not only bypassed all authorities at the state level but also gave an undertaking to the centre that it would obtain the post-facto approval.

Giridhar Kulkarni, a conservationist, said, “The Supreme Court in its judgement on the Lafarge project in Meghalaya had ordered not to entertain post facto approvals for any project. However, Karnataka contended that the project is considered without the approval of State Board for Wild Life (SBWL) and it will obtain a post facto approval of the project in the next SBWL meeting. This is nothing but a clear violation of the order by the Apex Court.”

In fact, Karnataka government’s highly secret action in pushing for projects was rapped by the Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife of the MoEF&CC. “Of late, many states have been sending projects for clearance directly to the Centre without bringing to the notice of the state wildlife board,” the committee said while referring to Karnataka’s proposal.

Not only the Hubballi-Ankola railway project but several other projects which had to be first presented before the SBWL were not brought to the notice of the state board. Despite stiff opposition by the Forest Department at various levels, political pressure backed by vested interests has paved way for the approval of the projects.

The controversial road between Shishila and Byrapura is also intensely backed by political forces. Despite the strong opposition by the locals and environmentalists, the state government not only ordered the survey to be done for the project but is already in the process of awarding a contract to prepare the detailed project report. In fact, the Forest Department booked cases against surveyors for illegally venturing to forest areas to carry out the surveys. The pressure was so much so that a parliamentarian from Karnataka personally wrote to the Union Surface Transport minister to post a dedicated officer to oversee the preparations.

Similarly, several other projects in Uttara Kannada and Shivamogga districts which are hitherto on drawing board have begun to take wings due to the political patronage.

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Political pressure behind project sanctions

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