Staff Reporter

BANGALORE: The much-sought new railway line connecting Hubli and the coastal town Ankola appears to be moving on the right track after it was decided at a high-level meeting here on Monday to take up a joint inspection of the forest area between Kalaghatgi and Ankola.

The new line, once commissioned, will give a boost to trade and commerce in north Karnataka regions with direct connectivity to ports on the Western coast.

The inspection by the officials of State Forest Department, South Western Railway (SWR) and the Ministry of Forests, Environment and Ecology of the Union Government, will be carried out between April 1 and 3.

The meeting was chaired by Governor’s Adviser P.P. Prabhu and attended by South Western Railway General Manager Praveen Kumar, Principal Secretaries to Government V.P. Baligar (Infrastructure Development) and Abhijit Dasgupta (Forest, Environment and Ecology) among others.

The inspection report has to be submitted to the Central Empowered Committee, which in turn will submit the same to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court had ordered a stay on the new line in 2006 on a public interest writ petition filed by environmentalists from Uttara Kannada. The railway ministry sanctioned this project in 1997-98 at a cost of Rs. 930 crore.

The State Forest Department recently wrote to the Infrastructure Development Department indicating non-feasibility of the new line and cited destruction of rich flora and fauna in the Western Ghats region between Yellapur and Ankola.

Mr. Praveen Kumar told The Hindu that several contentious issues were sorted out in the meeting and the SWR has readily agreed to construct sub-ways wherever wild animal trails were in existence.

The General Manager said the SWR had spent over Rs. 70 crore on survey, land acquisition, earthwork and construction of bridges on the 35-km stretch between Hubli-Kalaghatgi. It is a matter of one year for construction of the line on this stretch. Till Kiruvatti (55 km from Hubli) there is no issue related to environment damage. He said the railways had initially projected requirement of 965 hectares of forest land and upon request by the Ministry of Forests, it scaled down the requirement to 720 hectares.