Letter to NBWL
Hon’ble Minister of Environment,Forests & Climate Change
Hon’ble Minister of State of Environment,Forests & Climate Change
Government of India.
And Members of The National Board for Wildlife
Government of Karnataka seems to have flouted key tenets of the Constitution and the law on wildlife, overruled the State Board for Wildlife and cleared the ecologically disastrous Hubballi-Ankola railway line. The project entails felling nearly 2 lakh trees to lay a 164.44-km length railway line whose benefits are questionable according to various studies , especially with respect to transferring ore from mines in Ballari to coast.
According to the CEC report the ore available in Ballari-Hosapete’s mines is only for two decades after which mining would be economically unviable. Distance between Hospet-Hubballi-Vasco is 230 km and distance between Hospet-Hubbal
li-Ankola(the proposed route) would be 212 km which are almost the same. Why not take that route instead of fragmenting forests by building over 50 major bridges and over 21 kms of tunnels through the evergreen forests?
The line diverts 1472 acres of pristine forests and introduces fragmentation to two tiger reserves , Bedthi Conservation Reserve and Anshi Dandeli Hornbill reserve. These forests through which the railway line cuts support 29 species of mammals, 256 species of birds, many more species of reptiles and butterflies. Majority of the mammals are in the IUCN red list and also protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act 1972.
The tracks between Kali Tiger Reserve and Bedthi Conservation Reserve and more than 80% of the line cuts through Western Ghats.
It was also identified that elephants moving out of Dandeli Sanctuary pass through Bhagwati, Kalghatgi, Kirwatti, Mundgod, Katur and go up to Hangal. The proposed rail line would pass through the region and fragment the corridor and pose a threat of train hits and loss of property and lives of humans and livestock. Hence We request you not to go ahead with the Hubballi- Ankola railway line as well. No amount of afforestation will compensate for the loss of rainforests.
The genesis of this project goes back to 1998 when the railway ministry sanctioned a broad gauge line to connect Hubballi to the coastal town of Ankola. A report of South-Western Railway cited an increase in the movement of iron ore to the west coast as justification for approval. However, the project was evaluated by statutory authorities and the Forest Advisory Committee which concluded in May 2004 that “The construction of the proposed new railway track from Hubballi to Ankola for transporting mainly iron ore has not much justification. On the other hand, this will simply be a tragedy on the prime forests of Western Ghats and an irreversible effect on the fragile ecosystem of Western Ghats”.
Subsequently, in August 2015, the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) recommended to the Supreme Court “this Hon’ble Court may consider directing the MoEF not to reconsider/approve the proposal for diversion of 965 ha of forest land (subsequently revised to 720 ha and then to 667 ha)… for construction of the new Hubballi-Ankola Broad Gauge railway line and which was earlier rejected on merit by the MoEF”
In August 2018, a three-member committee comprising officers of the Ministry of Environment and the Wildlife Institute of India conducted a detailed site inspection. The committee concluded that:
- It is reiterated that extremely fragile ecosystems of the Western Ghats will not be able to sustain or buffer impacts
- The original rationale behind laying the proposed Hubballi-Ankola Railway track does not appear to be quite valid as of today since the mining and export of iron ore from the region is almost nil.
- Mitigation is not a panacea that will overcome all ill-effects of developmental projects. The Committee does not recommend implementing the project considering its wider ecological ramification and recommends its complete abatement.”
First, it must be emphasized that the State Board for Wildlife is a Statutory Committee constituted under Section 6 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Only those officials holding positions prescribed in the Act are eligible to be members, in addition to 13 non-official members. The Chief Minister, who is the chairperson of the Board, invited some of his cabinet colleagues and an MLA with no expertise in wildlife. This is a clear violation of Rule 9 of the State Board for Wildlife Rules, 2006, which specifically provides for the chairperson to invite only such persons who have experience in wildlife conservation. Such persons are also duty bound to act as per the objects of the law, which is to protect and conserve wildlife, as provided for under Section 8. Thus, the decision of the March 20 meeting runs the risk of being struck down by the courts, if challenged, due to grossly improper procedure.
Second, as highlighted earlier, this ecologically disastrous decision was taken despite several adverse opinions recorded by statutory authorities and committees with clear recommendations to reject this controversial project.
Third, every elected government is duty-bound to act in accordance with Article 48-A of the Constitution, which mandates protection of forests and wildlife. In the Indian Handicrafts Association matter, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by the Chief Justice, observed:
“We cannot shut our eyes to the statements made in Article 48-A of the Constitution of India which enjoins upon the State to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country. What is destructive of the environment, forest and wildlife, thus, being contrary to the Directive Principles of State Policy, which is fundamental in the governance of the country, must be given its full effect. Similarly, the principles of Chapter IVA must also be given its full effect. Clause (g) of Article 51A requires every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife…”.
In a petition filed by Wildlife First challenging mining in Kudremukh, which resulted in a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court held that, “Article 21 protects right to life as a fundamental right. Enjoyment of life and its attainment including their right to life with human dignity encompasses within its ambit, the protection and preservation of environment, ecological balance…Therefore, there is constitutional imperative on the central government, state governments…, not only to ensure and safeguard proper environment but also an imperative duty to take adequate measure to promote, protect and improve the environment”
The Supreme Court of India, also said in
- A. Nos. 1433 and 1477 of 2005IN WRIT PETITION (C) NO. 202 OF 1995
T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad Petitioner (s) Versus Union of India & Others
Human-wildlife conflict is fast becoming a critical threat to the survival of many endangered species, like wild buffalo, elephants, tiger, lion etc. such conflicts affect not only its population but also has broadened environmental impacts on ecosystem equilibrium and biodiversity conservation. Laws are man-made, hence there is likelihood of anthropocentric bias towards man, and rights of wild animals often tend to be of secondary importance but in the universe man and animal are equally placed, but human rights approach to environmental protection in case of conflict, is often based on anthropocentricity.
Man-animal conflict often results not because animals encroach human territories but vice-versa. Often, man thinks otherwise, because man’s thinking is rooted in anthropocentrism. Remember, we are talking about the conflict between man and endangered species, endangered not because of natural causes alone but because man failed to preserve and protect them, the attitude was destructive, for pleasure and gain. Often, it is said such conflicts is due human population growth, land use transformation, species habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, increase in eco-tourism, access to natural reserves, increase in livestock population, etc…
The reported decision of the Karnataka State Board for Wildlife flies against these profound directives of the apex court and the constitutional imperatives that every elected government has to abide by.
We would like to bring to your notice that NBWL has already cleared another proposal for doubling an existing BG line that connects Hubballi to the West Coast. This alignment is just around 50 km north of the proposed Hubballi-Ankola Railway Track. Can we keep puncturing the Ghats every 50-60 km with linear intrusions?
Also, Post Covid – if the HART is dropped the exchequer will save nearly 2500 crores.
Apart from the above mentioned objections, as NBWL is duty bound to protect wildlife, We are writing to urge you to reject this proposal.