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Nanjangud–Nilambur rail line draws ire of wildlife activists

R. Krishna Kumar
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The proposed track alignment cuts through the elephant and tiger habitat in Bandipur

The proposed route of the Nanjangud–Nilambur railway line that cuts across Bandipur National Park.
The proposed route of the Nanjangud–Nilambur railway line that cuts across Bandipur National Park.

A slew of activities this month on the Karnataka and Kerala sides to muster support for the Nanjangud–Nilambur railway line, connecting both the States, have drawn the ire of conservation biologists and activists who perceive the proposed link to be a killer track for wildlife.

In connection with the project, an interaction meeting was held in Mysore by the members of the Mysore Chamber of Commerce and Industry and their counterparts from Wayanad in the first week of August, resulting in the formation of the Mysore–Wayanad Joint Railway Connectivity Committee.

This was followed by Railway Minister M. Mallikarjun Kharge’s promise to a group of MPs from Kerala to consider the project, which the stakeholders described as an imperative for developing the backward districts of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

The proposed track alignment cuts through the elephant and tiger habitat in the Bandipur National Park.

Situated at the tri-junction of the three southern States, the entire landscape encompassing Bandipur-Nagarahole-Mudumalai-Wayanad constitutes a single contiguous forest harbouring the highest density of Asiatic elephants.

Global priority status

The National Tiger Conservation Authority has also accorded global priority status to the area as the tiger population is considered to be in the range of 354 to 411 in the entire landscape covering three States, while the Synchronized Elephant Census 2010 pegged the elephant population between 6,000 and 8,000 in the range.

Though sources in the Railways indicate that the Nanjangud–Nilambur line may not be economically viable, stakeholders have argued that it was socially desirable. The Rs. 3,384-crore project entails laying of 231-km of tracks of which nearly 22 km of it will cut through the Bandipur forests, including a 72-km track linking Nanjangud with Sultan Battery.

Concern

Expressing concern over the issue, Sanjay Gubbi, Wildlife Biologist, told The Hindu that one hears of elephants being run over by trains on a regular basis. “Bandipur has one of the highest densities of tigers and elephants anywhere in the world and we do not need trains running over them. We certainly need development but not at the cost of areas like Bandipur Tiger Reserve,” he said.

What is disconcerting the conservationists is that Bandipur is already fragmented by two highways — National Highway 212 connecting Gundlupet with Sultan Battery and NH 67 linking Gundlupet with Ooty — both of which pass through the core of the tiger reserve. Now, the prospects of a railway line cutting through the national park stares at them.

Incidentally, night traffic through the national park was banned by the High Court of Karnataka, consequent to which animal deaths owing to road accidents have come down. In the meantime, the Ministry of Environment and Forests has notified eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) covering the buffer zone around Bandipur in view of the rich wildlife the habitat harbours.

The ESZ covers 123 villages spread over 479.18 sq km in Gundlupet, Nanjangud, H.D. Kote and Chamarajanagar taluks and forbids any change in land use pattern that may be inimical to wildlife and environment.

“Given the sensitivity of the region, it would be prudent to drop the project,” say activists Chandrashekar and Arun Simha of Vanya Wildlife Trust, bracing up for a protracted struggle against it.

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