Updated: October 2, 2021 7:10:03 pm
After securing clearances for the upgradation of the Kumta-Sirsi National Highway (NH-766E) and the Belekeri-Hattikeri road, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has initiated work on these under phase 1 of the Centre’s Bharatmala Pariyojana project.
Activists have, however, raised red flags as the projects would entail felling around 10,000 trees. As many as 39.847 hectares (19.199 hectares in Honnavara division and 20.648 hectares in Sirsi division) of forest land and 8.0399 hectares of non-forest land is proposed to be diverted for the purpose.
The project is located just 610 metres from the Sharavathy Valley Lion Tailed Macaque Sanctuary where the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation is setting up a 2000 MW pumped storage electricity project.
The NHAI has stated that the purpose of the road upgradation is to provide safe and better connectivity to the Western and Eastern parts of the region. While the highways authority, in its submission to the forest department, has stated that the project does not violate the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, environmentalists point out that any tree felling in the project area will result in irreparable loss to the Western Ghats.
The NHAI, meanwhile, said the region receives heavy downpour causing landslides and upgrading the road will help commuters. “The existing project road continuously passes through forest land and requires diversion of 39.847 hectares of forest land. The forest area required for the project is estimated considering the existing Right of Way in the revenue village map,” NHAI Project Director (Dharwad) SD Potdar has said in his report.
“Alternative options for bypassing the existing road are not viable. Hence, upgradation of existing alignment is socio-economically, financially and environmentally a feasible option,” the director said.
Bengaluru-based wildlife activist Joseph Hoover said the project violates the Environment Protection Act. “Sirsi-Kumta project within the Sharavathy sanctuary and any activity other than conserving the wildlife habitat is also prohibited as per the Wildlife Protection Act,” he said.
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