The National Wildlife Council (NBWL) Standing Committee has directed the Union Department of Environment to organize a workshop under the chairmanship of the Additional Director General (Wildlife) to discuss the line project proposal in detail. Hubballi-Ankola railway. He asked officials from Ministry of Railways, National Highways Authority of India, Gati Shakti, Government of Karnataka and experts from Indian Institute of Technology Dharwad; Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru and Central Public Works Department (CPWD) will be included in the workshop.
The committee also suggested that the railways, which are the user agency, should make changes to the proposal to minimize the project’s impact on the environment. “There is a need to have an integrated plan for this important area of the Tiger Corridor. Moreover, the mitigation measures proposed in the project are not sufficient, they have been proposed based on the convenience of the railway and not taking into account the movement of wildlife. Therefore, the project proposal is not acceptable in its current form and the proposal requires numerous modifications,” the committee said.
Dr HS Singh, Member, NBWL, suggested that the railway line be doubled. In its original plan, the railways proposed a broad-gauge, single-track line.
“This being a more suitable site, there would be a demand for a doubling of the railway line in the near future. So if approval is to be given, it should be for the doubling of the railway line. This project proposal should also have longer span animal crossing structures. The railway line would cross several roads connecting the villages and it would also require temporary roads. These additional structures have not been included in the proposal. The user agency must submit the proposal in a revised form and the committee does not recommend consideration of the proposal in its current form. The roads associated with this railway line are owned by the National Highways Authority of India, State Highways and local authorities. In some places, the national road and this railway line would be very close. The mitigation measures proposed in the railway line would not be part of the national road. Therefore, an integrated approach is needed,” he said.
The wildlife clearance proposal for the new Hubballi-Ankola railway line project was received by the Karnataka government department in 2017. The project involves the diversion of an area of 595.64 ha of forest land for construction from a new broad gauge railway from Hubballi to Ankola through Tiger Corridors linking Kali Tiger Reserve to Sharavathi Sanctuary in Karnataka.
The Union Ministry of Environment appointed a seven-member committee on May 30, 2022. The committee conducted a site inspection and heard the views of stakeholders in Uttar Kannada and Dharwad districts in Karnataka from September 26 to 29, 2022. The committee submitted its report to the Ministry on December 26, 2022.
The NBWL Standing Committee meeting was held on December 29, 2022. According to the minutes of the 71st NBWL Standing Committee meeting, which was shared with the media on January 30, the committee said it found some shortcomings/ discrepancies in the project proposal. “The committee therefore recommended that the project proposal in its current form not be considered. The project can only be considered by the NBWL Standing Committee when all deficiencies/discrepancies and issues raised by committee members are resolved to minimize ecological loss and resubmitted,” the meeting minutes read.
NBWL member Dr Sukumar said there are both potential costs and benefits associated with linear projects like this. “There would be collateral damage which was not properly explained in the proposal in terms of the access roads needed for the project during the construction phase. Therefore, the assessment is that more than 1,000 ha of forest land will be affected by this project. This has huge implications for the overall integrity, biodiversity and animal crossings of the Western Ghats which need to be addressed,” he said.
He further stated that there has been an expansion in the range of elephants. “Elephants now pass through these areas. There is evidence that tigers are moving from Kali Tiger Reserve to Sharavathy Sanctuary. Deforestation must be avoided,” he said.
The Hubballi-Ankola project was originally conceived in 1998. According to official reports, more than 80% of the Hubballi-Ankola railway project passes through dense forests. Of the 995.64 hectares of land needed for the project, 595.64 hectares is forest land. The proposed 168 km railway line runs through forests between two major protected areas – Kali Tiger Reserve and Bedthi Conservation Reserve. The project would cost 2.34 lakh trees.