The line will cut through the Bandipur National Park
The grisly death of six elephants that were mowed down by a speeding train in Odisha in the early hours of December 30 has raised questions on the feasibility of the Nanjangud-Nilambur railway line being mooted by stakeholders to provide a new link between Karnataka and Kerala.
The demand for the railway line, which will cut through the Bandipur National Park, has been pending for many decades now.
The demand for Chamarajanagar-Mettupalayam railway link was shot down by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) on environmental grounds as it would have passed through dense forests.
Wildlife activists are perturbed as there is growing pressure on the State authorities to give clearance for the Nanjangud-Nilambur line in recent months. The pressure stepped up following the closure of national highways passing through the Bandipur forests for night traffic (9 p.m. to 6 a.m.).
Though the feasibility survey conducted by the Railways indicates that the Nanjangud-Nilambur line is not economically viable, stakeholders are pressing for it on the grounds that it is socially desirable.
The Rs. 3,384-crore project entails laying 231 km of tracks. Nearly 22 km of it will cut through the Bandipur forests, recognised by the National Tiger Conservation Authority as one of the best landscapes for tiger and elephant conservation as it is contiguous to a large landscape, including Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu, Wayanad in Kerala and Nagarahole in Karnataka.
Guruprasad Timmapur of Wildlife Matters, an NGO spearheading the cause of wildlife conservation, told The Hindu that the after-effects of fragmenting wildlife habitats were glaringly obvious in the number of wildlife deaths due to railway lines in Assam, West Bengal and Jharkhand and the new railway line proposal forebodes a similar fate for wildlife in Bandipur.
150 elephant deaths
Citing statistics from the Elephant Task Force report prepared by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Mr. Timmapur said India had lost more than 150 elephants as a result of train hits since 1987.
The propensity of wildlife deaths due to train accidents is greater near Bandipur and Nagarahole given the high density of animals compared to other landscapes in the country. Also, wild animals tend to stray from their natural habitat and do not confine their movements to the limits of the national parks. Man-animal conflict is rampant in the area and wildlife straying into human landscape as close as Mysore, which is about 60 km from these two national parks, is common, according to Mr. Timmapur.
Activists are worried that the Nanjangud-Nilambur project will devastate wildlife and have appealed for dropping the proposal.
Incidentally, the MoEF has notified Eco-sensitive Zone (ESZ) in areas around Bandipur as per which no activity inimical to wildlife and the existing environment can be taken up. The ESZ ranges from 0.5 km to 5 km from the national park boundary and has a geographical spread of 479.18 sq. km, covering 123 villages in Gundlupet, Nanjangud, H.D. Kote and Chamarajanagar taluks. Change of land use from agriculture to industrial is not permissible in this zone. Bandipur is bisected by two national highways — NH 212 and NH 67 — and animal deaths due to speeding vehicles were common. However, after the State banned the movement of vehicles on the two highways from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., the number of animal deaths has significantly reduced.
Sanjay Gubbi, wildlife biologist and member of the State Wildlife Board, said, “Protected areas such as Bandipur form only 4 per cent of the country’s geographical area and we need to have a hands-off approach from these wildlife-rich landscapes. Bandipur already has five major roads passing through it and we cannot afford to fragment it any further.”
Mr. Timmapur pointed out that an alternative road via Hunsur, Gonikoppa, Kutta and Kartikulam had been proposed. The State government had released Rs. 18 crore for taking up the work, he said and added that this project should be patronised instead of seeking new projects.
There is growing pressure on the State to give clearance for the project in recent months Activists, who are worried that it will devastate wildlife, have appealed for dropping the plan
There is growing pressure on the State to give clearance for the project in recent months
Activists, who are worried that it will devastate wildlife, have appealed for dropping the plan