In a big win for environmentalists in Kodagu and conservationists from all over Karnataka, the Karnataka High Court on Tuesday asked the Indian Railways to seek environment related clearances before commissioning two rail projects in Kodagu.
The HC on Monday gave these directions as it was hearing a public interest litigation filed by Colonel Muthanna, president of the Coorg Wildlife Society and others. Disposing of the case, the High Court said the Railways cannot proceed since forest and wildlife clearances have not been obtained. Moreover, the Indian Railways have been asked to notify the petitioner when they apply for the clearances.
The South Western Railways in February had sanctioned construction of an 87 km railway line between Belagola in Mysuru and Kushalnagar the largest town in Kodagu in February to the dismay of environmentalists and many locals. Another proposed rail line which was planned to cut through the forests were the Mysuru and Thalassery line.
Speaking to TNM, Colonel Muthanna said, “Till now the Forest Department had been saying that the Railways have not approached them at all. Now that we are party to the case, if the Railways want to review the project or ask permission from the Environmental Ministry, they have to keep us informed.”
He added, “Technically since it’s a buffer zone in a Tiger Reserve, they can’t get these clearances.”
The Coorg Wildlife Society and others had approached the court stating destruction of the fragile Western Ghat ecosystem due to rampant commercialisation and unsustainable development, has already made Kodagu vulnerable to environmental catastrophes like last year’s floods. They stated that construction of the rail line will not only clear forests and alter the topography but also increase commercialisation and tourist activity.
Opposition to railways or large scale infrastructure projects is not new in Kodagu and a series of protests have been held since June, 2017. There were continued protests by greens across Karnataka against the rail projects under the banner ‘Save Kodagu, Save Cauvery’. Activists feared further deterioration of the ecosystem would mean Cauvery which originates from the district will change its course which will impact a major part of south India which depends on its waters
Joseph Hoover, a noted conservationist and a former member of the State Wildlife Board in a statement said, “Kodagu has suffered numerous landslides due to excessive rains and flooding in 2018 and 2019. Scientists had blamed unscientific development activities (constructions, resorts and linear projects) for the ecological disaster.”
He alleged that Mysore-Kodagu BJP Member of Parliament Pratap Simha had gone back on his word as he had reportedly spoken against the rail line before being elected but later changed his stance.
Hoover added, “If he insists on developing Kodagu district, Simha should build multi speciality hospitals and sports infrastructure. Kodagu can do without a railway line.”