'Rail, road works will aggravate calamity in Kodagu'

The devastating floods and landslides in Kodagu will get unimaginably worse if the government goes ahead with the proposed road, rail and other development projects in the district, warns a new study by three Indian Institute of Science (IISc) scholars.

The study by Dr T V Ramachandra, Setturu Bharath and S Vinay has recommended that the railway line proposal be withdrawn, road expansion be abandoned and night traffic be regulated.

To be published in the journal “Progress in Disaster Science,” the study  “Visualisation of impacts due to the proposed developmental projects in the ecologically fragile regions of Kodagu district” also calls for a ban on ginger cultivation and clearance of forest encroachments. All the proposed expansions, the study notes, pass through sensitive wildlife habitats/buffers or run parallel to the district’s protected area boundary.

“Such projects will aggravate existing human-wild life conflict. The coffee predation by elephants will accentuate due to fragmentation as well as loss of connectivity.”

Scenario-based analyses highlight the likely loss of forest cover from 53% to 42% (2010 -2026) if the proposed linear projects are implemented.

The study also informs that built-up area will mushroom most intensely in the towns of Madikeri, Virajpet, Gonikoppal, Ponnampet, Somwarpet, Kushalnagar, and Shanivarasante. Identifying Kodagu as a region that is part of the central Western Ghats with exceptional biodiversity, the study makes another dire warning:
“The expansion or new construction of linear alignments would result in irreversible ecological degradation.”

In the recent floods and landslides, the study finds evidence of the implications of drastic changes in the land cover eroding the native forest ecosystems. “Further interventions will worsen the ecology and hydrology as well as livelihood.”

Linear projects such as major roads and railway lines should not be allowed, the study recommends with this rationale: “The region is intrinsically fragile with steep slopes and sharp gradients; small disturbances will lead to catastrophe.”

Night traffic regulation is another key recommendation. This, the study notes, will reduce the high instances of wildlife road kill.

Regulation of tourism with a Master Plan, strict ban on plastic waste dumping, rigid rules on resorts and villas are also part of the IISc recommendations. A ban on ginger cultivation is proposed for this reason: The land becomes infertile for at least 2 -3 years after growing ginger.

It requires chemical treatment to get back the farming land. It also calls out rubber plantation as a major driving force distressing the unique biodiversity-rich landscape.

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