NH 66 expansion hit more lives, ecology than estimated: Study

Houses damaged after a landslip at Tandraguli fishing village in Kumta taluk, Uttara Kannada district, when the hillock that was being cut for widening NH 66 caved in.  

The expansion of National Highway 66 (NH 66) from Karwar to Kundapura has impacted many more lives and livelihoods of coastal families of Uttara Kannada than estimated, in addition to damaging the ecology of the region. It has upset the intricate livelihood arrangements between communities, land and waterscapes, a new study has found.

‘Closing the Enforcement Gap: A community led ground truthing of the expansion of a National Highway Project in Uttara Kannada’, a study carried out between June 2016 and August 2018 along 187 km of NH 66, shows non-compliance in taking permissions for blasting, groundwater and river water withdrawal, dumping of soil on wetlands and creeks which caused flooding and saltwater intrusion, among others. The recently-released study argues that liner projects such as NH 66 have the potential to change existing land use of large areas, and these changes are visible on landscapes of both sides of the highway.

The study was conducted by the Centre for Policy Research-Namati Environmental Justice Programme and communities from towns and villages situated between Karwar and Kundapura.

Many disputes

It was in 2011 that the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) proposed the widening and upgrading of the existing NH 17 (renaming it as NH-66). It was meant to reduce traffic, fuel consumption and accidents, and save time. It was also claimed that the construction of the highway would bring development in all areas it passed through and led to economic growth of the region. “Right from when project-related activities began, local newspapers consistently reported ongoing disputes between the communities and authorities,” the study states, adding that apart from land acquisition, locals have also raised objection to the non-compliance of the project’s clearance conditions and its adverse impacts.

Researchers pointed out that many village communities lost the right of access to public property such as public roads, drinking water sources and schools. Some communities lost access to common land, while several rivers, streams and creeks had been blocked for the construction of bridges and roads, and these blockages resulted in flooding and saltwater intrusion into farmlands during the monsoon.

“Many villages were affected by the stone blasting activities carried out for the widening of the highway. Villages located near the stone crusher units encountered health and livelihood-related problems due to dust pollution. There were reports of damage to public property such as pipelines, drainage systems, water tanks and other public utilities. The project construction activities led to massive landslips in several areas... (such as) in Byndoor in June 2017. Another landslip near Divgi village in Kumta completely destroyed eight houses. Three children who were sleeping in these homes were killed by this,” says the study.

Gap in population hit

Researchers have said that the project Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report did not estimate the population that would be affected by environmental impacts, instead giving only the estimate of people who would be affected by land acquisition for the project. “As per the EIA report, approximately 2,602 structures/households comprising 3,953 people would be affected by the project. As per our study, more than 44,000 people are affected by various project activities and related impacts,” it said.

The study concludes that permissions which were specified in the EC (Environment Clearance) were not taken, as a result of which many activities undertaken for the project are ‘illegal’, affecting the lives of communities.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 1:14:44 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/nh-66-expansion-hit-more-lives-ecology-than-estimated-study/article30832589.ece

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