Plan for Nilambur-Nanjangud railway line through Bandipur National Park evokes protests over ecological impact

Railway line to connect Nilambur in Kerala to Nanjangudi in Karnataka on Golden IT Corridor

Protests in Mysuru over the Nilambur-Nanjangud railway line. Photo: Coovercolly Indresh

A proposal for a 236 kilometre broad-gauge railway line that will run through Bandipur National Park has conservationists rallying to protect the protected area. The railway line will connect Nilambur in Kerala to Nanjangudi in Karnataka, which is known as the Golden IT Corridor. Wildlife experts have expressed concerns over the potential ecological impact of the railway line on Bandipur and Nagarahole national parks.

The Kerala government is citing the project’s potential to improve interstate connectivity while significantly reducing travel time and distance. The railway line would also alleviate traffic congestion on National Highway-766, which connects Kozhikode in Kerala to Kollegal in Karnataka’s Chamarajanagar district, according to the project proponent.

However, environmentalists pointed out that a 19.7-kilometre stretch of the highway traverses through the ecologically sensitive Bandipur National Park. The potential ecological impact and disruption to wildlife habitats outweigh the perceived benefits of the proposed railway line, they argued.

A proposal for the construction of a six-lane elevated highway in Bengaluru’s Bannerghatta National Park in Karnataka evoked similar protests by environmental activists over its potential adverse impacts on the ecologically sensitive park.

Over the last week, environmentalists have banded together under the banner ‘Save Bandipur’ to advocate for the preservation of Bandipur and raise awareness about the potential impact of the proposed railway project on the area.

A protest was staged in Mysuru on February 4, led by the Gandhada Gudi Foundation, urging authorities to safeguard the Bandipur forest. Demonstrators voiced their opposition to the construction of the railway line within the forest area. Environmentalists have expressed concerns that the ban on night-time traffic in Bandipur might be lifted and called for the continuation of the night traffic ban on the Bandipur National Highway to prevent accidents and protect wildlife.

The concerns arose following Karnataka Forest Minister Ishwar Khandre recent visit to Bandipur Tiger Reserve. However, the minister said the ban would remain in place. “We adamantly oppose the lifting of the night traffic ban in Bandipur. Our priority is the preservation and safeguarding of wildlife and forests,” he said.

Pratap Simha, who represents Mysuru-Kodagu (Lok Sabha constituency) of Karnataka in Parliament, has also urged the government to prioritise forest conservation efforts and take decisive action to address the concerns raised by conservationists.

Meanwhile, Kerala government has initiated a survey for the construction of the rail line despite resistance, claimed local news reports. However, Shilpi Agarwal, the divisional railway manager of South Western Railway (SWR) for Mysuru stated that she lacks information about the project and the alleged survey. The existing Nanjangud-Chamarajanagar line is within SWR’s knowledge, but they are unaware of Kerala’s plans to connect it to Mysuru, Agarwal said.

Any aerial survey if carried out would likely have been conducted by a private agency, she speculated. “Once the plan receives approval from the Railway Board, it will be forwarded to SWR for consideration. However, at present, SWR has no insights into the project,” Agarwal said. 

Forest authorities in Karnataka asserted that they had not been informed by central departments about the two proposed projects, nor were they aware of any aerial survey conducted by Kerala.

“If Kerala conducted an aerial survey within our state’s jurisdiction, it would have required our authorisation, and we would have been informed,” a senior Karnataka forest official said on condition of anonymity.

“As of now, Karnataka has not received any proposals or notifications regarding the mentioned projects. The calls to lift the night traffic ban in Bandipur and Nagarahole reserve forests, as well as the construction of a new railway line, predominantly originate from Kerala, not Karnataka,” the official clarified.

The Planning Commission initially approved the project cost in 2010, envisioning a 70-kilometre shortcut from Kerala to Bengaluru. The project was deemed technically feasible by Kerala government and will cost around Rs 4,266 crore.  

A policy address by Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan on January 22, 2024 referenced the Nilambur-Nanjangud rail project, along with another contentious Thalassery-Mysuru new broad gauge rail, as initiatives the Kerala government intends to pursue. 

Kerala had earlier commissioned a viability study on the Thalassery-Mysuru rail link by E Sreedharan, former managing director of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. However, based on Sreedharan’s report, the project was deemed ‘unviable’.

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