The move is part of the controversial Goa-Karnataka railway doubling project through the fragile Western Ghats, which is already a subject of litigation in several courts.

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news Environment Wednesday, June 30, 2021 - 08:50

In yet another questionable decision by the Karnataka government regarding the controversial Goa-Karnataka railway doubling project, more than 2,000 trees including those in a tiger reserve, were greenlighted for felling in “secrecy” amid the lockdown. The railway doubling project (from Vasco to Hospet) through the fragile Western Ghats is already a subject of litigation at the Karnataka High Court, the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court over alleged violations of multiple forest, environment and wildlife laws. Incidentally, the Supreme Court’s Central Empowered Committee, too, in its findings said that the National Wildlife Board clearance for the project should be revoked in its report on April 23. 

But documents which have come to light only now, show that on April 28 and April 30, the Karnataka Forest Department has granted tree felling permission to South Western Railways to cut 181 trees in Haiyal territorial limits and another 2,097 trees within the Kali Tiger Reserve. The clearances to cut these many trees have been slammed by activists who joined under the name of Growthwatch India from both the states.

They call the tree felling permissions ‘illegal’ as it is not only in contravention of several environmental and wildlife laws but also passed without the mandated public consultations. “Further, we feel the clearances were granted illegally, in a haste, to make our petition at the Karnataka High Court infructuous,” retired top IFS officer and petitioner at the Karnataka High Court, Yellapa Reddy, said. 

He said that these tree cutting clearances itself are illegal under Section 16 of the National Green Tribunal Act. “An appeal against an order or direction under Forest Clearance Act can only be preferred within a period of 30 days from the date of communication of the order,” he further said. However, since the orders to fell the trees given on April 28 and April 30 were allegedly not made public, those protesting it could not go to the NGT to oppose it.

Also read: #SaveMollem: Group of scientists question clearance for Goa-Karnataka railway line

Another activist, Rajani Santosh, expressed apprehension over the fate of the trees and the fragile wildlife habitat. “During the lockdown, we were under virtually house arrest. We are still not fully safe from the pandemic; it is only gradually that lockdowns are being lifted across states. In this crisis, we are unable to reach ground zero to ascertain if the trees have already been chopped down.”

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