BANGALORE: Despite the tragic death of a herd of five elephants being mowed down by a railway train in Orissa just two days ago, the chief minister of Kerala is scheduled to meet his Karnataka counterpart on January 3 at 4pm at the latter’s residence ‘Krishna’ to discuss the proposal of new railway line slashing Bandipur Tiger Reserve, one of India’s finest protected areas. The environmentally and economically unfeasible railway line is proposed to connect Nanjangud in Karnataka with Nilambur in Kerala at a humungous cost of Rs 3384 crores with about 22 kms of the line passing through the famed tiger reserve.
Taking a strong stand on the matter, Wildlife Matters, an organisation working towards the conservation of wildlife said that while the aftereffects of fragmenting wildlife habitats are glaringly obvious in the number of wildlife deaths due to railway lines in Assam, West Bengal and Jharkhand, the proposed railway line forebodes a similar fate for wildlife in Bandipur. According to the Elephant Task Force report drawn up by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, India has lost 150 elephants as a result of train hits since 1987. Innumerous smaller wildlife is unaccounted for. It is difficult to understand how such projects that have deleterious effects on wildlife can be proposed and supported by the head of the state especially when a reconnaissance cum traffic survey report submitted to the Railway Board had proposed an alternative alignment that avoids entering into the tiger reserve.
The re-opening of vehicular traffic along NH 212 and NH 67, passing through the core of Bandipur Tiger Reserve is also on the agenda of the Kerala CM’s visit to Karnataka. The Kerala government has been relentlessly pursuing the removal of the effective night existing ban from 9 pm to 6 am even though the matter is currently sub judice. Their first attempt was rejected by the former Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa in favour of wildlife conservation. A second attempt was moved with former CM, DV Sadananda Gowda on opening up the night traffic ban on December 18, 2011.
A proposal to have a convoy system allowing vehicular traffic at night was also discussed between the governments and experts and duly rejected.
In a meeting held on the 30th June 2010 under the chairmanship of Chief Secretary, Sri SV Ranganath, along with the representatives from Kerala, all pertinent points were discussed and agreed upon regarding the night traffic closure. But the Kerala government is still persistent on its efforts to have the ban lifted.
Despite the fact that the central government itself has already submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court supporting the night traffic ban, Kerala is still hoping to get it cleared at the centre which has a Congress lead government, if the BJP government of Karnataka supports it, notes experts of Wildlife Matters.
An alternate road passing via Hunsur-Gonikoppa-Kutta-Kartikulam was proposed to be repaired and developed by the Karnataka government in accordance with the Karnataka High Court order in the case of WP 17498/2009 and 919/2010. The Government of Karnataka has already released budget to repair the alternate road and work has already been taken up.
It is important to remember that while developmental projects are fundamental to a country’s growth, it is a matter of great concern when these projects are taken up at the cost of our ecological heritage. It is sincerely hoped that the Karnataka and Kerala governments give utmost importance to wildlife conservation issues in the forthcoming meeting.