NTCA rebukes state over Hubballi-Ankola rail project

NTCA rebukes state over Hubballi-Ankola rail project

A verdant land along the Western Ghats through which Hubballi-Ankola Railway line will pass through.

Zealous in building railway network, flyovers and roads cutting through dense forests across the state, Karnataka government has been rebuked by the National Tiger Conservatory Authority (NTCA).

In its report submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) over the controversial Hubballi-Ankola railway line, the NTCA stated that Karnataka’s economic development need not happen at a greater cost to the forest, wildlife of the Western Ghats.

The NTCA which inspected the Western Ghats landscape in Dharwad and Uttara Kannada districts for the second time following directions by the MoEF&CC has strongly recommended scrapping of the project which otherwise would spell doom for the fragile Western Ghats.

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In its 30-page report, a copy of which is with DH, NTCA stated, “While economic development is important for the state of Karnataka but it need not and should not happen at a greater cost to the forest, wildlife of the Western Ghats landscape. Without conservation of biological diversity of the Western Ghats landscape, the economic growth and prosperity of the region will not be sustainable in the long-run.”

For all those arguing in favour of adopting mitigation measures, the committee said, “Mitigation is not a panacea that will overcome all ill-effects of development projects just by having overpasses, underpasses, ramps and tunnels. In fact, avoidance is considered as the very first mitigation step/measure. Despite the technological and scientific development, our understanding of complex natural processes in the Western Ghats region is still primitive.”

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This apart, the NTCA committee has also listed six other parameters to justify its recommendation to scrap the project requiring diversion of a whopping 596 hectares of forest land and chopping of more than 1,50,000 trees in dense evergreen forests.

The inspection report was made available under the RTI by Bengaluru-based conservationist Giridhar Kulkarni, who has also written to the State Wildlife Board to drop the project on various scientific grounds. Besides revealing that the Western Ghats is the extremely fragile ecosystem, the committee revealed that the region will not able to sustain or buffer impacts likely caused by development projects of the scale of this railway line.

“The mining and export of iron ore from North-Eastern districts is almost nil, the agencies can utilise the existing vast network of railways and roads for cargo transport. The local communities will also benefit minimally by the project besides affecting the declining population of tiger and small elephant population,” the report said.

Adverse effects on forest contiguity, hydrology and drainage network, distribution and behaviour of endangered flora and fauna in the area, conservation of sacred groves, impact on micro-climate have also been highlighted in the report.