In a relief for environmental activists, the Karnataka High Court on Thursday stayed the clearance given by the State Wildlife Board for the controversial Hubballi-Ankola railway line project. The 168-kilometre-long railway line was proposed to run from Dharwad district to Uttara Kannada, cutting across the fragile ecosystem of the Western Ghats.
On Thursday, the court asked the National Wildlife Board to not go forward with the proposal sent by the state government.
The decision came as a Bench, led by Chief Justice AS Oka, was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Bengaluru-based conservationist Vijay Nishanth on behalf of his Project Vruksha Foundation, a conservation NGO.
â€śThe Hon'ble High Court issued notices to all respondents, granted ad-interim relief to the petitioner and stayed the decision of the chairman taken in the 14th meeting of the Board, held on March 20. The Hon'ble Chief Justice also observed that the question raised in the PIL requires further examination and directed all the respondents to appear before the Court on the next date of hearing of the PIL,â€ť said Sreeja Chakraborty, the advocate appearing for Vruksha Foundation.
Elaborating on the issue, Sreeja said a decision to cancel the project was taken unanimously by the State Wildlife Board on March 9. However, 11 days later, another meeting was convened only to discuss the project again, which had been rejected, said the advocate.
Only six people were part of the second meeting, two among them cabinet ministers â€” Large and Medium Industries Minister Jagadish Shettar and Labour Minister Shivram Hebbar. Former Industries Minister RV Deshpande and Karnataka Chief Secretary TM Vijay Bhaskar were also present. But there is no recorded reason in the Board meeting that explains why the earlier decision was reversed and the project given the go-ahead.
â€śSo the judges read out the minutes of the meeting on March 9 and March 20 and compared them. They found there was no sound reason recorded to decide in favour of the project,â€ť Sreeja said.
The case will come up for hearing again on July 14.
Controversy surrounding the case
The 168-km proposed rail route connecting Hubballi in north Karnataka and the port of Ankola through the eco-sensitive Western Ghats has been opposed by green activists for long. According to estimates, two lakh trees will be wiped to make way for the project, including those in the Kali Tiger Reserve and the Bedthi Conservation Reserve.
Over the past 20 years, the project has been opposed even in the Supreme Court and was rejected by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.