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Seek Necessary Approvals Before Impact Assessment Of Hubballi-Ankola Rail Project: Karnataka High Court Tells National Board For Wildlife

Mustafa Plumber
20 April 2022 9:00 AM GMT
Seek Necessary Approvals Before Impact Assessment Of Hubballi-Ankola Rail Project: Karnataka High Court Tells National Board For Wildlife
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The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday directed the National Board for Wildlife to get the necessary approvals if required from the National Tiger Conservation Authority and under the Forest Conservation Act and thereafter carry out a survey and make an assessment of the effect of laying down a railway line between Hubballi and Ankola on wildlife. A division bench of Chief Justice Ritu...

The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday directed the National Board for Wildlife to get the necessary approvals if required from the National Tiger Conservation Authority and under the Forest Conservation Act and thereafter carry out a survey and make an assessment of the effect of laying down a railway line between Hubballi and Ankola on wildlife.

A division bench of Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and Justice S R Krishna Kumar said,

"It is hereby provided that the National Wildlife board shall get the necessary approvals if required from the National Tiger Conservation Authority and under the Forest Conservation Act and thereafter take appropriate decision in terms of the courts order dated 1-12-2021. The earlier order dated 18-06-2020 shall not come in the way of the said respondents in taking the decision. The decision taken shall be placed before the court on the next date."

The court had in its order dated December 1, 2021, while hearing a batch of petitions said, "We direct the National Board for Wildlife, to carry out a survey of the area in question and make and assessment of the effect of laying down of the Hubbali-Ankola, railway line in the forest area involved, over the wildlife."

It had added, "The National Wildlife board shall go through the various reports submitted by various boards and authorities and make an independent assessment of the impact of the project on the wildlife. The National Board for Wildlife may involve experts in making the assessment if it feels necessary."

Further it had said, "We understand that development work is to be carried out. However, we have to assess the impact on the wildlife and the endeavour should be to protect the wildlife. In order to find out the impact of this development project on wildlife."

During the hearing today, Additional Solicitor General M B Nargund appearing for the respondents had informed the court because of order dated 18/06/2020, the entire project has been held up and the respondents have been put to difficulty in taking any concrete steps or take any decision, pursuant to the courts orders dated 1-12-2021.

On the other hand counsel for one the petitioners submitted that it is not only the National wildlife board which is to take a decision, National Tiger conservation authority as well as approvals under the Forest Conservation Act are to be taken before the project is implemented which has not been done. Following which the court issued the directions to the National Board for Wildlife.

Background:

Among the batch of petitions filed, one is by Project Vruksha Foundation contending that the 14th meeting of the State board recommending/approving wildlife clearance for the construction of 168-KM new broad gauge railway line was vitiated by abuse of discretion and non application of mind.

The petitioner had earlier argued that the decision of the Chairman is solely based on the pro-project arguments forwarded by his special invitees, during the 14th meeting of the state board.

The special invites included Minister for Large and Medium Scale Industries, Jagadish Shettar, Minister of Labour and Sugar, Shivaram Hebbar, R V Deshpande, MLA and former minister for large and medium scale industries and the Chief Secretary of the state, who all are not members of the board, the petitioner said.

The petition states that the presence of such special invitees vitiates the proceedings of the meeting as it amounts to violation of Rule 9 of the Karnataka State Board for Wildlife Rules, 2006, which only allows people with experience and expertise in wildlife conservation as special invitees. It is estimated that around 2.2 lakh trees will have to be cut for the project.

The plea also says that the project area falls in the Eco-sensitive zone of the Kali Tiger reserve also known as Anshi-dandeli tiger reserve in the Western Ghats and cuts across the elephant and tiger corridor. The project passes through the Western Ghats which was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2012.

The court had by its order dated June 18, 2020 by way of interim relief had directed that no further steps shall be taken on the decision taken by the State Board for Wildlife to allow diversion of 595.64 hectares of forest land for constructing railway line between Hubballi and Ankola.

The plea prays for quashing the decision taken in the 14th meeting of the state board for wildlife recommending wildlife clearance to the project. Direct the Standing Committee of National Board For Wildlife not to consider the said decision as the final recommendation of the Karnataka SWB in their subsequent meetings.

Case Title: PROJECT VRUKSHA FOUNDATION v. STATE BOARD FOR WILDLIFE (SBWL)

Case No: WP 8067/2020

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