By P.T. Bopanna
Even before the people of Kodagu (Coorg) in Karnataka have recovered from three consecutive years of landslides, the Modi government has ‘fast-tracked’ a slew of projects which could cause permanent damage to the landscape of the hill district.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has brought the Indian economy to near collapse through demonetisation and unplanned lockdown in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, is pushing for a few projects, including rail link to Coorg, which could trigger a ‘man-made’ disaster in South India.
Apparently, the mandarins sitting in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) have not heard of the floods and landslides that ripped apart the landscape of Coorg. It was only a couple of weeks ago that a portion of the Brahmagiri hills at Talacauvery, the birthplace of river Cauvery, came crashing down, burying alive the temple priest and his family. The Talacauvery temple tragedy was a ‘man-made’ disaster because the state forest and revenue officials used bulldozers to carry out works in a fragile area.
According to reports, the railway officials have been asked to complete the location survey of Mysuru-Kushalanagar line before March 2021. The tender for the survey has been finalised. “We will finalise the alignment, bridges to be built and the requirement of the land will be fixed. After the final location survey, a project report will be sent to the Indian Railways,” P V Satyanarayana, the engineer involved in the survey, has been quoted as saying.
The PMO may not be aware of the ‘dirty politics’ being played by Kodagu-Mysuru Lok Sabha member Prathap Simha, who is being helped by Union minister Piyush Goel.
Knowing fully well the ecological damage that would be caused by the Mysuru-Kushalanagar railway line, Simha is backing the project to appease the Vokkaliga voters in the Hunsur-Periyapatna belt of his constituency by promising to develop the area.
In December, 2018, 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 last 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.”
One more railway line is planned connecting Mysuru with Thalassery in Kerala which will pass through Kodagu district. However, the Karnataka High Court had asked the Indian Railways to seek environment clearances before commissioning rail projects in Kodagu.
Meanwhile, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has begun boundary marking exercise and land acquisition survey for the four/ six-lane Mysuru-Madikeri Economic Corridor Expressway Project along the Mysuru-Madikeri NH-275.
The PMO should immediately intervene in the matter as all the projects are coming up in the main catchment area of the river Cauvery which enables urban life, agriculture and industry in the two major states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It is in the national interest to protect this vital landscape from the ravages of ‘development’ at a time when the region is facing major landslides.