A group of 120 concerned ecologists and activists, including several residents of the affected districts, have written to Mr Prakash Javadekar (Union Environment Minister), B.S. Yeddyurappa (Chief Minister of Karnataka) and the Chief of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, asking for the rejection of the proposal for the Hubballi-Ankola Railway Line. This railway line is set to pass through the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats region, threatening 1.58 lakh trees.
The Karnataka State Board for Wildlife had approved the project proposal in March, and it was awaiting approval by the National Board for Wildlife. However, on June 18, the K’taka High Court stayed the project. A second hearing on the Project in the same court will take place on July 14, 2020.
Signatories of the letter include Anindya Sinha, former member of the State Wildlife board, prominent ecologists Harini Nagendra and Divya Mudappa, “Tree Doctor” Vijay Nishant, as well as indigenous Uttara Kannada activist Jayanand Derekar (Find full content of the letter below). Important concerns raised in the letter are as follows:
The regions affected by the project are home to hundreds of endangered species which are enshrined with government protection under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Animals like tigers, elephants and lion-tailed macaques that live here require vast unbroken tracts of forests, and the fragmentation of the forest by this railway line will threaten their survival and increase human-wildlife conflict in the region.
Forest-dwelling communities like Gowlis, Siddis, Kunbis, Halakkivokkaligas depend on collected forest produce like honey, wax, shigekai, canes, cashews, among others. The total economic value of goods from the affected forest area is estimated to be ₹297 hundred crore annually, which stands to be lost.
Recent flooding and landslides in Kerala and parts of Karnataka have been attributed to deforestation activities. There are fears that with the deforestation that this project will bring, similar events will begin to affect the Uttara Kannada district as well.
The project will also affect the catchment areas of the Kaali and the Gangavalli rivers, which provides drinking water as well as water for agriculture. Uttara Kannada has already been facing water shortages, and this will only get worse if river catchment areas are further compromised.
Forests are complex networks that perform numerous valuable functions that allow for life to thrive on Earth. These include: regulating rainfall and weather, absorbing carbon emissions, protecting fertile soil from erosion, recycling of nutrients, regulating river flow, sheltering thousands of species of fauna. Large scale deforestation will negatively impact our climate vulnerability.
Forests are not just trees, but include a host of small plants, creepers, insects, fungi, mammals, birds and other living beings that are crucial to maintain critical functions of the forest. Compensatory Afforestation measures ignore all these components of the forest.
Apart from this, the history of tree plantation and compensatory afforestation in India has been fraught with problems of improper implementation, forceful occupation of indigenous lands and creation of monocultures of non-local species. Thus, the ecologists call for a rejection of the project.
In the letter, the ecologists and activists point out that there appears to be no case of national interest served by the Hubballi-Ankola Rail Line. We should instead ensure we preserve a healthy environment in order that we may have healthy people, the letter concludes.