An emergency online press briefing by Growthwatch India, took place on 28 June 2021 after finding out that the Karnataka Forest Department had issued tree felling permissions within a tiger reserve to the South Western Railways on April 28th and 30th 2021, amidst the pandemic and second lockdown. The project is an interstate railway track doubling project from Hospet in Karnataka to Vasco in Goa.
The activity involves diversion of 10.57 ha protected area forest land in Karnataka (including the Kali Tiger Reserve) and another 113.85 ha in Goa through the Mollem National Park. Phase I of this project for a length of 245 kms in Karnataka from Hospet to Tinaighat is funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
This stretch lies outside of the tiger corridor and protected areas allowing the ADB to deftly slot it as a category ‘B’ project with potentially less significant adverse impacts on the environment. However, to complete the railway double tracking project, this phase continues into Phase II cutting across wildlife corridors and the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats from Tinaighat to Vasco in Goa and is the site for grave environmental concern in both impacted states.
Rajani Santosh, environmental activist based in Bengaluru, Karnataka and member of Growthwatch India, explained how the ADB which funded Phase I of this project had paved the way for Phase II to be implemented which completes the coal corridor route (Vasco port at Mormugao, Goa to Hospet in Karnataka).
According to Dr. Yellappa Reddy, retired Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer & former Environment Secretary to Government of Karnataka, the project is ‘ECOCIDE’, “the doubling tracking project spells a death knell for the region and its tiger populations that traverse this Tiger Corridor connecting the forests of three states Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa.” He also added that “the fragmenting of the landscape due to activities like tree-felling not only damage this ecologically sensitive area in the immediate future but also emphasized that they cause long term irreversible changes to this unique ecosystem.”
Dr. Reddy who served at the Anshi – Dandeli reserve region (Kali River Tiger Reserve) for 5 years, is certain that it is a unique biodiversity hotspot under severe threat from multiple linear infrastructure projects like national highway, doubling of railway line and electric transmission lines.
Advocate Sreeja Chakraborty mentioned how citizens, scientists & researchers have been opposing this project “impacted communities came across the project being executed in the midst of the first COVID-19 lockdown, it has acquired w.r.t Wildlife Clearances and Forest Clearances amidst the pandemic!” She also explained that “ADB’s funding of INR 2200 crores invested for the Phase I project made possible the ecologically destructive Phase II. The Central Empowered Committee constituted by the Hon’ Supreme Court of India, had prior to the second wave of the pandemic, on 23rd April 2021, submitted a report to the Supreme Court regarding the double tracking of railway project that endangers the Tiger Corridor, which is already fragile due to road widening and transmission projects.”
The same sentiment was echoed by Vikas Bhagat, Secretary, Goenkar, Goa, “we have been opposing the railway double tracking project from the very beginning, and have still found no respite because the authorities are choosing to turn a deaf ear to the people in spite of repeated appeals, agitations and demonstrations.”
The project is still ongoing despite the report of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), stating that the project must not be undertaken in the form that it was envisaged and had asked for further studies to be done.
Vidya Dinker, Coordinator, Growthwatch India averred that “this is an affront to the peaceful but consistent opposition on the ground to the whole project of the South Western Railway that basically facilitates a coal corridor for the Adani and JSW groups from their coal handling ports in Goa, inland to industry around Hospet. That the Karnataka Forest Department issues such tree felling orders in stealth while the project is under legal challenge is clearly a blatant attempt to create a fait accompli situation and render the legal challenges infructuous.”
For more information contact Rajani Santosh or Vidya Dinker of Growthwatch India at firstname.lastname@example.org or through their mobile nos +91 9972203129, +91 9845323869.