Trains Over Tiger Reserves
February 2013: The argument for the construction of a new railway line to connect Nanjangud in Karnataka with Nilambur in Kerala, at the cost of Rs. 3,384 crores across a 22 km. stretch of pristine wilderness in the reserve, has taken on new dimensions, with the Kerala State Government taking a keen interest in pushing for the rail track.
About the Campaign:
The old battle between development and the environment never dies, this time rearing its ugly head in Karnataka’s Bandipur Tiger Reserve. Stakeholders are pressing for the project due to high social demand for the railway route, which has been under consideration for close to a decade. Guruprasad Timmapur of Wildlife Matters, an NGO that has taken a strong stance against the project, feels that unseemly pressure is being placed by the Chief Minister of Kerala on his counterpart in Karnataka in favour of the railway line. Timmapur stated to The Hindu that the consequences of fragmenting wildlife habitats were glaringly obvious in the number of wildlife deaths due to railway lines in Assam, West Bengal and Jharkhand and the new railway line proposal forebodes a similar fate for wildlife in Bandipur.
Photograph Courtesy Wildlife Matters.
His view is not without justification. Linear intrusions into wildernesses, like roads and railways, are well-known to compromise the long-term ecological viability of such regions, disrupting the cycle of ecosystem services they perform by habitat loss, fragmentation, landslides and soil erosion, spread of invasive species, increased hunting, tourism and human development pressures, wildlife injury and mortality, wildfires, littering, pollution, etc. Not only this, many infrastructure projects in wildlife regions are poorly implemented, monitored and appraised. According to the Elephant Task Force report by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), India has lost around 150 elephants, and innumerable unaccounted for small wildlife, as a result of train hits since 1987.
Incidentally, the MoEF only recently notified the Eco-sensitive Zone (ESZ) around the Bandipur boundary. No activity that is detrimental to wildlife and the existing environment can be taken up in this zone. In support of this view, the two national highways that bisect Bandipur — NH 212 and NH 67 — were banned from vehicular usage between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. by the Karnataka State Government, to reduce the number of animal deaths by speeding vehicles. This too, has been brought up by the Kerala government, which has been pressing for not only the railway construction, but for the ban to be lifted.
As a solution, a reconnaissance-cum-traffic survey report submitted to the Railway Board had proposed an alternative alignment that avoids entering the tiger reserve, and the Karnataka government has already started the repair of the alternate Hunsur-Gonikoppa-Kutta-Kartikulam road to divert traffic from the highways. Still, stakeholders continue to seek new projects in Bandipur, such as this rail track, which is both environmentally unsound and economically unfeasible.
Sanjay Gubbi, wildlife biologist and member of the State Wildlife Board, said, “Protected Areas such as Bandipur form only four per cent of the country’s geographical area and we need a hands-off approach from these wildlife-rich landscapes. Bandipur already has five major roads passing through it and we cannot afford to fragment it any further.”
“Rail connectivity between Kozhikode in North Kerala to Mangalore, Mysore and on to Bangalore has already been established by sacrificing pristine forests in the Western Ghats. This line is completely under-utilised and all that is required is more trains on this section. Furthermore, there is good rail connectivity between Palakkad in central Kerala to Coimbatore and Bangalore. In this view of the matter, the demand for a rail link through Bandipur, which has some of the highest densities of both tigers and elephants, is absurd and deserves no consideration,” said Praveen Bhargav, Managing Trustee, Wildlife First.
In the light of the above, it is our hope that Karnataka Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar can live up to the stance adopted by his predecessors, and keep the Bandipur landscape from further devastation. Write to the Chief Ministers of Karnataka and Kerala, as well as the Railway Minister, stressing the dangers of fragmented wildlife habitats and the need for cross-border protection in Bandipur.
Chief Minister, Kerala, Government Secretariat, Trivandrum – 400026.
Tel.: 0471 2333610, 2333812, Fax: 0471 2333489
Chief Minister, Karnataka, Vidhana Soudha, Bangalore – 560001.
Tel.: +91 9000000000, Fax: +1 2345647894
Pawan Kumar Bansal
Minister of Railways, Rail Bhawan, Rafi Marg, New Delhi – 110001.
Tel.: +91 11 23386645, 23381213, Fax: +91 11 23387333