Shishila-Byrapura Road project: NHAI seeks clearance

The pristine Balur reserve forests, spread over 18,000 acres, will be disturbed by the project. Photo/G Veeresh

What was feared by conservationists all these days has come true.

Regardless of the growing dissent against the destruction of forests in the Western Ghats, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has submitted a detailed application seeking approval for a controversial road project from Shishila (Dakshina Kannada) to Byrapura (Chikkamagaluru). Spanning 278 km, it is part of the ambitious NH-173 road project from Chitradurga to Mangaluru, linking the port with the golden quadrilateral to improve the efficiency of freight movement in the country.

Conservationist from three districts—Chikkamagaluru, Dakshina Kannada and Hassan — have been protesting against the project as it will damage the forests of Western Ghats, besides the acquisition of several hectares of agricultural land in all the districts. Evidently, the three state forest patches—Balur, Meeyar and Kabbinale—are source points of several rivulets that eventually drain into major rivers, including Yettinahole and Nethravathi.

Documents accessed by DH show that the NHAI has submitted a Detailed Project Report seeking diversion of 60.13 hectares of forest land spread across Dakshin Kannada, Chikkamagaluru and Hassan. Of this, Dakshina Kannada (DK) district will lose most of the forest land, according to the details submitted by the NHAI. Though the application has been submitted to the forest department in the first half of 2018, the details of diversion have come to the fore now.

 

The Karnataka Forest Department has raised several objections and returned the NHAI’s application as “incomplete”. “DK district will lose 44.83 hectares of forest land while Chikkamagaluru and Hassan will lose 7.95 and 7.35 hectares of land, respectively. Further, of the 188.32 hectares of non-forest land, Chikkamagaluru alone will lose 144.02 hectares,” the application revealed.

Several areca and orchard farms in Kadur and Sakharayapattana will be acquired for the project, according to sources.

The NHAI claimed that the new proposed route will reduce the existing travel distance from golden quadrilateral to the port by 196 km.

“At present, the freight from Mangaluru port, destined towards North India, will reach the NH-4 (golden quadrilateral) near Chitradurga by travelling via Bantwal to Hassan (NH-75) and touch NH-4 near Tumakuru, traversing through the Shiradi Ghat. This would involve covering a total distance of 474 km. The proposed new route will be only 278 km in length, reducing the distance by 196 km,” the document revealed.

G Veeresh, a conservationist from Moodigere, told DH that the proposal has several loopholes.

“Though the forest area is only a state forest, it has evergreen forests. Several rivulets originate from these forests. All of them will be damaged. Also, the non-forest area also has considerable vegetation like Shola forest, Male kaadu and Devara kaadu, which has the same vegetation. All of this has not been taken into consideration. Collectively, the project will lead to a loss of more than 20 lakh trees along the stretch.”

Also read: Shelve Shishila-Bhairapura NH project: Environmentalists

Interestingly, despite the protests, the projects have been supported by the BJP leaders led by Udupi-Chikkamagaluru Parliamentarian Shobha Karandlaje, who has already invited Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari to lay the foundation stone in February, and carried out site inspection along with the NHAI engineers.

“The foundation stone, according to the leaders, will only be laid for the work between Kadur and Moodigere as the forest clearance is yet to be accorded for the project beyond Moodigere. The leaders are of the opinion that if the work on the other half is completed it would be easier to get clearance and can be accomplished at a later stage. But even the stretch between Kadur and Moodigere has close to 5,000 trees and all of which will be axed for the project,” Veeresh rued.

Seeking clarity on the project, DH tried in vain to reach out to Srinivasulu Naidu, DGM(T) and Project Director, NHAI, and sent him text messages. However, there was no response.

Confirming the application, Punati Sridhar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, told DH that they have sent back the application citing incomplete details.

“The application had incomplete details as there was no mention of survey numbers of the forest and non-forest land, sketches of the project overlapping the forest patches. The agency must resubmit the application to DCF which will be sent to the CCF. Only then will we look into the details of the project and decide whether to give clearance or not,” Punati explained.

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Shishila-Byrapura Road project: NHAI seeks clearance

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