Environmentalist Col Muthanna opposes railway line through Kodagu
Col C.P. Muthanna, Principal Advisor, Coorg Wildlife Society (in picture above), has strongly opposed the proposed survey of the Mysore-Madikeri-Mangalore railway line through Kushalanagar. Col Muthanna’s article has been reproduced below:
In many respects, the proposed railway line through Madikeri could be like the final nail in the coffin for the people of Kodagu. It is with a sense of dismay and disbelief that one sees politicians and others rejoicing over Union railway minister Mamata Banerjees’ approval for a survey of the railway line through Kodagu.
It is more than obvious that there is excellent connectivity to Kodagu with the existing bus services. It only needs to be ensured that the roads are maintained in good condition. Without going into any kind of detailed analysis of the issue, let use take a commonsense approach to see how the railway line will cause serious damage to the land, forests and the people of Kodagu:
The railway line will pass through forests of the Somwarpet sub-division. This area already has one of the most severe levels of Human Elephant conflict in the entire country. The Harangi and Chiklihole dams together with other pressures has isolated a population of about fifty elephants that are literally trapped North of Cauvery River. The Railway line will only add to the woes of both people and elephants. Calf elephants will not be able to clamber up the steep rail embankments. This will further restrict the movement of entire sub-herds that are struggling to cope with severely fragmented forests. Already there are calls to trans-locate the entire herd. It would be a tragic situation of removing the species rather than saving and improving the habitat. To the West, as the railway line exits through the Western Ghat forests of Kodagu, it will compound the degradation and destruction of our precious evergreen forests. Due to various disturbances in the Kadmakal and Pattighat Range, elephant intrusion into villages near the forests is very frequent. In villages like Hammiala, the situation is so bad that during the past decade, the bulk of the villagers have migrated outside the district to take up jobs as security guards etc. These are the very people who had lived proudly for centuries in the land of their birth. Owing to the remoteness of the area, media coverage is low and the plight of these villagers receives little attention.
Kodagu is already buckling under demographic pressures where the indigenous communities are being steadily marginalized by outsiders. A railway line will accentuate this problem; the deadly process of ‘Bloodless Ethnic Cleansing’ will speed up as the trains smash their way in. Does this sound familiar? Yes, very much like the railway line to Lhasa, touted as a ‘marvel’ of Chinese engineering. The real intention is to flood the Tibetan plateau with Han Chinese, reduce the Tibetans to a helpless minority in their own home land and kill their spirit for ever. It may seem far-fetched to compare Tibet with Kodagu; but there are similarities that cannot be wished away.
We are told that among various benefits of the railway line, the tourism industry in Kodagu would receive a tremendous boost. While tourism has its benefits to some extent, we have already reached a point where the pressure of tourists has exceeded the carrying capacity of Kodagu. Many people are fed up with the tourist influx. During weekends, when thousands of tourists descend on Madikeri, the local citizens feel like strangers. If Madikeri reels under water shortage every summer, one of the main reasons is the extra burden of supplying water for resorts and meeting the needs of tourists. While tourism has resulted in our sacred places and pristine areas being converted to garbage dumps, hundreds of acres of land are being sold to outsiders for construction of resorts and hotels. There is definitely no need to ‘promote’ tourism in Kodagu. What we require is for tourism to be ‘regulated’ to the extent possible.
Lastly, the railway line will not be constructed in thin air. It will pass through private properties: hundreds of acres of coffee and large tracts of wetlands will be destroyed. The rail line will go like a rocket, taking the shortest possible alignment. It would pass through estate infrastructure such as drying yards, pulp houses, godowns, labour lines etc. If required, the line may even require the demolition of several houses that come in the way. Along the entire Somwarpet-Madikeri axis and further to the West, the landscape would witness a devastating transformation.
In Dec 2006, the Minister of State for Railways, Mr R. Velu had stated that surveys had been conducted during 1998-1999 for the Channarayapatna–Kushalnagar line and during 2003-2004 for the Mysore-Mangalore line via Madikeri. The cost estimates as of those dates had been Rs 107.54 crores and Rs 1138.38 crores respectively. The Minster had also mentioned that the project had been shelved as it had been assessed as being financially unviable and also due to lack of resources. By the time the fresh surveys are completed and the actual work commences, the costs could exceed Rs 2000 crores. Such a huge quantum of money could well be invested for setting up projects in Kodagu that are in consonance with coffee and other agro-based or horticulture products of Kodagu. One excellent example is the unit of the Coorg Orange Growers Cooperative Society established in Gonikoppal several years ago by the late Dr K.M. Aiyappa. Such industries would ensure that processing and packaging of Kodagu produce is carried out within the District. This would create employment for the people of Kodagu and improve our economy. But NO! There is no such depth of vision. Instead, more than Rs 2000-crore would be pumped in to put an arrow through the heart of Kodagu! The people of Kodagu must stand united to oppose the project.