By P.T. Bopanna
The ‘dirty politics’ being played by Kodagu (Coorg) MP Pratap Simha to establish the Mysuru-Kushalanagar railway line, suffered a jolt on Tuesday after the Karnataka High Court asked the Indian Railways to obtain environmental clearances before commissioning the railway line.
Responding to a public interest litigation filed by the Coorg Wildlife Society and others, the court noted that railways cannot go ahead with the project in the absence of forest and wildlife clearances. Further, the court directed the railways to notify the petitioners while applying for clearances.
A spokesperson for the petitioners was quoted as saying: “Till now the forest department had been saying that the railways have not approached them at all. Now that we are party to the case, if the railways want to review the project or ask permission from the environmental ministry, they have to keep us informed. Technically since it is a buffer zone in a tiger reserve, they cannot get these clearances.”
The petitioners had contended that Kodagu was vulnerable to environmental catastrophes like the floods which devastated the area in the last two years.
It is no secret that Mysuru-Kodagu MP Simha had been lobbying for the project, knowing fully well the ecological damage that would be caused by the railway line. Simha has been backing the project to appease the Vokkaliga voters in the Hunsur-Periyapatna belt in his constituency by promising to develop the area.
It is suspected that Simha has the backing of the Kerala timber and tourism lobby who will be the main beneficiaries. It is on account of these lobbies, Simha has made renewed push for the railway project and the broadening of national highway 275 passing through Kodagu on the eve of the Union budget. It is estimated these projects would involve the felling of over four lakh trees.
What is worrying about the whole exercise is that Simha is pushing for the project for political reasons even after it was declared as economically unviable.
Last December, the Union Minister of State for railways Rajen Gohain had told Parliament that the Mysuru-Kushalanagar-Madikeri line project had been dropped as the line will not fetch any revenue to the railways.
Gohain had told the Lok Sabha in a written reply: “the survey for Mysuru (Belagola)-Kushalanagar-Madikeri (119.10 km) new line was completed during 2018-19. The total cost of the proposed new line was assessed at Rs. 2,607.53 crore with rate of return of (minus) 5.65 per cent. The survey report has been examined and this proposal could not be taken forward due to un-remunerative nature and no operational and financial justification of the proposed new line.”
Within months of the project being shelved for not being remunerative, on the eve of the Lok Sabha polls, Simha met railway minister Piyush Goyal and tweeted: “New Railway Line between Mysuru and Kushalnagar (87 Kms) approved at a cost of Rs 1854 crores.”
This gives room for suspicion that the sanctions have been given by short-circuiting the various procedures to gain electoral advantage. What adds to the suspicion is the fact that even before the railway could formally announce the sanction of the railway line to Kodagu, the announcement was tweeted by Simha!
Prime Minister Narendra Modi should stop the railway project which has been found to be economically unviable by his own government, but being pursued by the Simha-Piyush duo for political reasons. And also on account of the ecological damage that would entail in the fragile Western Ghats, the birthplace of river Cauvery, the lifeline of South India.