In spite of the objections raised by the Department of Forests and Wildlife over serious ecological and social issues, the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) has pushed for the proposed Thalassery-Mysuru railway project.
Government sources told The Hindu that the State government had sought permission from the regional office of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest, Climate Change in Bengaluru to carry out a survey for the rail line project through the 49-km stretch in the forests of Kerala region.
The proposed line passes through the forest belts of Kannavam and Periya which have rich repositories of biological diversity and chunks of tropical evergreen forests.
The rail distance between Thalassery and Mysuru has been worked out to be 206.51 km, of which the actual construction length will be 190.22 km.
The proposed rail line also passes through 35 km of ecological sensitive zones, including 11 km of the Nagerhole National Park in Karnataka.
Largest elephant reserve
Official sources pointed out the ambiguity in the government making a strong pitch for the ₹5,500-crore project when the State Forest Department had cited serious ecological damage to the Kannavam-Periya tract. These forests link the largest elephant reserve in south India from the Mudumalai-Bandipur-Nilambur tract to the Bramhagiri Hills of Karnataka.
Besides, about 1,000 tribal families belonging to the Kurichiyar community that reside in the Kannavam forests in 33 settlements would be displaced if the project is implemented. Questions also arise about the Ministry allowing the Kerala government to carry out a survey for a project that passes through two States, they said.
The government had not submitted a proforma to the Ministry for taking up non-forestry activities in wildlife habitats under the Supreme Court guidelines. Also, it had not secured a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the National Wildlife Board of India, the sources said.
It is learnt that political interests had made the government take up the project though the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) had said in its feasibility report that the line was not viable. The expenditure is high on account of the high land costs, long length of 53 km in the Ghats section and the need for a TBM tunnel (length of 11.45 km) to cross over the wildlife sanctuary of Karnataka.
Interestingly, the project to construct the 168-km Hubli-Ankola railway line cutting across the Western Ghats in Karnataka conceived in 1998 is still hanging fire.