Mysuru-Kerala rail project to go ahead despite opposition? Activists to move court

A recent reply by Railway Minister Piyush Goyal in Lok Sabha revealed the Indian Railways has not scrapped the controversial Thalassery-Mysore railway line.
Mysuru-Kerala rail project to go ahead despite opposition? Activists to move court
Mysuru-Kerala rail project to go ahead despite opposition? Activists to move court

On February 5, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal revealed the Indian Railways had not scrapped the controversial Thalassery-Mysuru railway line, despite long-standing opposition to the project. He also said that the work to prepare Detailed Project Report (DPR) for Nilambur–Nanjangud Rail Line has also been entrusted to Kerala Rail Development Corporation Limited (KRDCL). 

Both these rail lines, proposed by the Kerala government in 2007, connect Mysuru with northern parts of Kerala. However, these projects were in cold storage due to constant opposition from activists and the Karnataka Forest Department. The proposed Thalassery-Mysuru railway line passes through Kodagu, a district in Karnataka that suffered two successive years of floods and landslides. The Nilambur–Nanjangud rail line project, on the other hand, would jeopardise portions of two ecologically-sensitive national parks - Bandipur and Nagarhole. 

With the Railway Minister’s recent reply to a question in Lok Sabha, the debate and fears of deforestation for laying the rail lines has once again come to the fore. 

While the draft DPR of both the railway projects has been prepared, Goyal further said that the Railway Board has advised obtaining forest clearance and alignment with approval of all the stakeholders. “The government of Kerala has requested for a high-level meeting between Kerala and Karnataka at Chief Secretary level, along with officials concerned from Forest Department and Transport Department for approving the alignment. The DPR will be finalised in light of the outcome of this meeting,” he said in his reply to Congress MP K Muraleedharan from Kerala. 

Bhagya Lakhsmi, an activist, said that a group of activists in Bengaluru and Mysuru are planning to move the court to prevent any loss of forest resources.

This development comes after the failure of the Kerala government’s move to lift the night traffic ban in order to construct an elevated corridor through the Bandipur forest. 

On one hand, people in Kerala’s Wayanad argued that the vehicular ban meant detour and longer travel time, which, in turn, affects tourism. Environmentalists from both states and Karnataka Forest Department officials pointed out that lifting the ban would destroy the biodiversity and tiger habitat in the Bandipur forest.

In October 2019, environmental activists were further relieved when the Karnataka High Court asked the Indian Railways to seek environment-related clearances before commissioning projects. The court was hearing public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Colonel Muthanna, president of the Coorg Wildlife Society, and others, stating that the destruction of the pristine forests has already made Kodagu vulnerable to environmental catastrophes. 

Since June 2017, all large-scale projects have been opposed by environmental groups under the banner, ‘Save Kodagu, Save Cauvery.’ They feared that changing the geography of the area would alter the course of river Cauvery. Incidentally, most of south India is dependent on Cauvery, which originates from the Kodagu district.

Speaking on the issue, Joseph Hoover, an activist and former member of the Karnataka Wildlife Board, said that both the rail projects have been opposed by environmentalists and rejected by the Karnataka governments in the past. “Even the Kerala government and railway officials know that they would not be able to get environmental clearance for these projects,” he added.

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