20070401

NILGIRI RAIL ROAD


Trouble in jumbo heartland
Green groups agitate against the proposed railway line through Sathyamangalam, a biodiversity reserve.

KA Shaji /Coimbatore
The new rail line would cause irreparable damage to the biodiversity and the wildlife of the regionThe Indian Railway seems all set to inherit the dubious legacy of brigand Veerappan in the Sathyamangalam forest range, which is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.
A recent writ petition filed by chief engineer-construction (West) of the South Western Railway before the Supreme Court-constituted Central Empowered Committee (CEC) sought a directive from the Tamil Nadu Forest Department to permit it to survey the area.
The Railway has proposed a 156-km broad gauge line from Chamarajanagar to Mettupalayam which will run through Sathyamangalam. According to environmental groups, the proposed rail line will pose a threat to the elephants of the Sathyamangalam forests, which serves as an elephant corridor linking the Nilgiris and the Western Ghats.
In his petition, chief engineer Adesh Sharma says the line would pass through 58 km of dense forests in Tamil Nadu and the survey work requires “felling trees of spontaneous growth in meagre level wherever necessary”.
Despite strong pressure from the ruling dmk government in Tamil Nadu and its prominent ally, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the state forest department has denied permission to the Railway to conduct the survey in view of the Supreme Court order banning felling of trees of spontaneous growth in the state’s forests.
According to sources, the South Western Railway approached the CEC for clearance on instructions from Union Minister of State for Railways R. Velu of the PMK.Velu claims that the project obtained “in-principle sanction” during 1996-97 and as a result there was no need for the project to stand further scrutiny.
Once the final clearance from the forest department is available, the Railway Board should get funds and execute the project, he says.In the petition, the engineer says that survey work in non-forest areas is in “full swing” and on getting clearance, the survey of forest areas would be completed in three months.
Though the petition emphasises the benefits the railway line would bring to the people, it is silent on the damage it would cause to the flora and fauna.According to S. Jayachandran, joint secretary of Ooty-based Tamil Nadu Green Movement, the new line would block the elephants’ path.
The Green Movement along with other groups in the state and Karnataka, is likely to approach the Supreme Court as the proposed line would divide the only contiguous elephant habitat that spreads over 15,000 sq km across the two states.“This is precisely what is happening in Uttaranchal’s Rajaji National Park through which a railway line passes. More than 20 elephants were killed by trains in the last decade.
The same trend might continue down south if the new line is laid,” says Manjunath of Bangalore-based Wilderness Club. He added that the line also threatens the Mysore Elephant Reserve. “The Union ministry of environment and forests had requested the Karnataka government to notify the elephant reserves in Karnataka in 2000. Subsequently, it approved the setting up of the Mysore Elephant Reserve which covers Chamarajanagar district. Now, the Railway ministry has taken up the rail project in the same district itself,” Manjunath says.
However, according to South Western Railway authorities, the new line will reduce the distance between Coimbatore, Bangalore and Mysore. They add that there is no alternative but to lay the rail line through Sathyamangalam.(Tehelka, Oct 28 , 2006)

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