The remaining works on the Hubballi-Ankola railway line project, passing through the forest areas, will be commenced only after getting all clearances as per law and adhering to the directions from the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL), South Western Railways (SWR) has assured the High Court of Karnataka.
The Railways will also prepare a mitigation plan for the project passing through the forest areas in consultation with the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, as per the NBWL’s directive, besides following any other directives from the NBWL and the Ministry of Environment, Ecology and Climate Change, the SWR’s Deputy Chief Engineer, Constructions-1, stated in an affidavit filed before the court.
Field study report
The NBWL, acting on an earlier direction of the court, had constituted a committee and conducted a detailed field study, the report of which was submitted to the court, and the Railways have been asked by the NBWL to submit a revised proposal for implementing the project in forest areas, it was stated in the affidavit.
A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Prasanna B. Varale and Justice M.G.S. Kamal, which accepted the statements made in the affidavit as an undertaking to the court, has disposed of a batch of PIL petitions, in which the legality of the approval granted by the State BWL in 2020 for laying down railway line in the forest areas was questioned.
The petitioners, Project Vruksha Foundation and others, had questioned the legality of the decision taken in the 14th meeting of the SBWL, headed by the then Chief Minister, held in March 2020 within 11 days of the 13th meeting, which had unanimously decided that the project proposal would be rejected.
The Bench noted that several rounds of discussions and meetings took place based on the court’s earlier directions, on the project component passing through forest areas, and the NBWL had apprised the railway authorities about certain gaps and deficiencies, which the Railways agreed to address in its revised proposal.
In non-forest area
The SWR had also stated in the affidavit that the project was already executed up to the distance of 34 km from Hubballi, which falls under a non-forest area, by investing ₹100 crore, including land acquisition, and it was awaiting mandatory approvals to complete the remaining portions that pass through forest areas.
Though the project was sanctioned during 1996-97, the Railways could not complete it even after several years, resulting in non-development of north Karnataka region and escalation of project cost, the SWR pointed out in the affidavit.