Hubli-Ankola line still a Mirage

Hubli: The proposed 163-km long railway line between Hubli and Ankola, which connects the north Karnataka hinterland to the Karwar Port, appears to be a never-ending wait for the people of the state.

Almost 62 years have elapsed and more than Rs.300 crore spent on laying the track covering a distance of about 45 km and creating infrastructure facilities. But yet the project got grounded after the railway authorities failed to get the environmental clearance from the union ministry of environment and forest indicating that the introduction of train services is likely to take longer.

Now there is a renewed hope after Mallikarjun M Kharge was made the minister of railways. The project requires not just the environmental clearance but also additional Rs 3,000 crore. I don’t think both are viable considering that he has short tenure,” said BJPstate unit president PrahladJoshi

There is another rider too. Now that the UNESCO has declared the Western Ghats (through which the proposed railway line will pass) as World Heritage site, it will be another Herculean task to get the green nod.

It all started in 1951 when then president of Karnataka Chamber of Commerce, Hubli S S Yelmali made a formal demand for Hubli-Karwar railway line. But then union minster of state for railways and transport K Santhanam turned it down saying he did not think the volume of traffic justified the construction of the line at a huge cost.

After a lot of hue and cry in the early 1990s, the Railway Board sanctioned it in 1996 and work started in 2001. The 45-km stretch of railway line has already been completed from Hubli toKalghatagi. Presently, the issue of environment clearance is pending before the Supreme court forKalghatagi-Ankola stretch since the area comes under forest zone.

Environmentalist who filed a petition in the Supreme court argue that the proposed railway line would destroy large-green patches in the Western ghats, one of the bio-diversity hotspots in the world. I don’t think now the centre will deem it fit to give its nod to the project when they themselves have agreed it as a special site,” said

Earlier, an IISc team had studied the biological diversity, ecology and environment in the region between Hubli and Ankola. According to the team, a total of 1,134 hectares of land will be completely degraded with the implementation of the project. It has noted that the rail line would pass through the sensitive tiger reserve area.

To minimize the damage, the expert team had also suggested for construction of many tunnels and bridges. Accordingly South Western Railway mooted a new plan but still it still has failed to impress the SC-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC). The government is hoping that the CEC will visit again to reassess the possibility of giving the clearance.