Karnataka has rejected two proposals from the Kerala Government for railway lines connecting the two states citing that the proposed lines will pass through eco-sensitive zones, and could potentially damage the environment. Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai told reporters on Sunday following a meeting with the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan that the proposals for rail lines between Kasargod and Dakshina Kannada, and Thalassery and Mysuru, were rejected. "These are old proposals which were earlier rejected. They come under eco-sensitive zones and have national parks and tiger sanctuaries. We are rejecting these proposals, this time around as well," Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said.
Environmental concerns in Karnataka
Activists have raised concerns that the proposed rail line between Kasargod and Dakshina Kannada will pass through eco-sensitive zones in Sullia and Subramanya in Dakshina Kannada district, while the proposed rail line between Thalassery and Mysuru will pass through eco-sensitive Bandipur and Nagarahole national parks. "The proposed route from Thalassery to Mysuru, cuts across a tiger reserve and an elephant corridor and it is the right decision to reject the proposal," Joseph Hoover, a wildlife activist from the United Conservation Movement said.
Kodagu-based environmentalist Colonel (retd) Cheppudira P Muthanna said that the proposed rail on the Mysuru-Thalassery route will also cut across his home district, the lone Karnataka district without a railway line. "We live in the catchment area of Cauvery river and we have managed so far without railway connectivity. We do not want our forests to be uprooted to construct one. It will also exacerbate the human-animal conflict in the areas of Kushalnagar, where the railway line is planned," Cheppudira P Muthanna told TNM.
The activist, who is the former president of the Coorg Wildlife Society, said that the concerns raised in Kodagu will also affect adjacent areas including Wayanad in Kerala. "The CPI(M) government in Kerala must also respect the reality of being in the catchment area of Cauvery. The problems that were raised here are equally applicable to Wayanad, where the rail line passes through in Kerala. So it is against their long-term environmental interests as well," Col Muthanna said.
CPI(M) and criticism against its mega rail projects
The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), the current ruling alliance in Kerala, has come under fire for promoting a series of infrastructure projects in the state. The most prominent of these is the Silver Line Project, a semi high-speed rail line running from south to north in the state and possibly extending to Mangaluru in Karnataka, which is close to the Kerala border.
The CPI(M) has responded to critics of the project by claiming that the state government was not neglecting its social priorities. "There are many naive questions being raised on whether the large outlay on the Silver Line project could be better used for more urgent social priorities. The answer is no, for the simple reason that it is a project tied to a loan approved by the government of India and, therefore, it cannot be utilised for any other purpose," Thomas Isaac, a central committee member of the CPI(M) had said in a party response published in March 2022.
Activists, however, have raised concerns about the interstate rail project citing its potential environmental and social impact. "It does not augur well that a BJP Chief Minister is advising a left government about ecological concerns. This is shameful for a state like Kerala with a history of being pioneers of pro-environment movements," Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Kerala-based engineer and environmentalist who has vehemently opposed the Silver Line project, said.
The environmentalist further raised concerns about the CPI(M)'s seemingly contradictory stance, since it is opposing a similar high-speed rail project from Mumbai to Ahmedabad. "The Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train is being staunchly opposed by the CPI(M) in that region and they took out a long march against it. There are articles in People's Democracy, their own mouthpiece, which is criticising this project. The same government is now promoting the Silver Line project, which is a similar project, in Kerala," Sridhar Radhakrishnan said.
"The CPI(M) has been carried away by a wrong sense of development and mega infrastructure projects that a few people are pushing and there are no checks or corrective processes within the party. The party should be discussing it from all points of view," Sridhar Radhakrishnan added.
The CPI(M)'s general secretary Sitaram Yechury claimed in April 2022 that its opposition to the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train was chiefly due to concerns over compensation being paid for the land that will be acquired for the project. The Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the major opposition parties in the state, have strongly objected to the proposal due to possible environmental and social impact.