Fragile ecosystem: Will Karnataka govt fell over 50,000 trees for Byrapura-Shishila road?

While environmentalists allege local leaders and various lobbies were exerting pressure on successive governments to convert the existing pathway between the two villages into a full-fledged highway, the leaders say it is a necessity to offload rush on highways through the Shiradi and Charmadi portions of the Western Ghats.

The Karnataka government on Tuesday confirmed that the project to lay a road connecting Byrapura in Chikkamagaluru with Shishila in Dakshina Kannada, which will cut through the pristine forests of the Western Ghats, had begun. The project is already underway. This, in turn, translates into felling of thousands of trees for the laying of the road.

Last year, the government had given in principle approval to the construction of the road as an alternative to the overwhelmed highways through the Shiradi and Charmadi portions of the Western Ghats.

On Tuesday, in a reply to BJP’s MK Pranesh, Public Works minister HC Mahadevappa said the project had begun, and currently the survey work was going on. The entire project (two-lane road) is expected to cost about Rs 56 crore.

Mahadevappa said: “Of the 65-km stretch, 13 km will wind through Dakshina Kannada district and 52 km through Chikkamagalur district. The government has already entrusted Bengaluru-based Preethi CAD Consulting Engineers with the responsibility of preparing the detailed project report. The firm is in the process of conducting a survey in the area, and work is under progress and only after obtaining the DPR will we know the periodicity of the project.”

Unrest against the project, which will connect the coast to the hinterland, is brewing across the serene and calm Malenad area of Karnataka, particularly in Chikkamagalur and Hassan districts.

Environmentalists estimate that nearly 50, 000 trees will be cut down for the construction of this road, that too in the already fragile ecosystem of the Western Ghats.

There is even an online signature campaign, created by Soma Hegdekatte, appealing the Karnataka Forest Department, to not give clearance to the project.

The demand for Byrapura-Shishila road has been there for over four decades.

Local leaders and various timber lobbies have been exerting pressure on successive governments to convert the existing pathway between the two villages into a full-fledged highway.

Last year, Moodigere MLA BB Ningaiah reportedly said Shishila-Byrapura road was a necessity and needed about Rs 50 crore and 80 acres of forest land, both of which fall within the state government’s powers.

In another report, Ningaiah said, “There are already two routes through Shiradi and Charmadi ghats. Traffic on both stretches is beyond capacity. Especially, when the Shiradi road was closed to be upgraded there was too much of traffic on Charmadi and frequent accidents involving children, women and senior citizens have been widely reported. With rumours about the stretch again being shut for various reasons since January 2016, Charmadi will face the brunt. Hence, there should be an alternative road to accommodate the traffic and the exiting pathway between these two areas should be developed. If not for heavy vehicles, then at least for LMVs, the project must take off. Initially, it has been estimated that the entire project would cost less than Rs 50 crore. But in turn it will reduce the travel distance between Mudigere and Ujire by 29 km.”

However, some activists have reportedly trekked the route and measured the distance. Their observation revealed that the project will reduce the distance by 3 to 4 km only!

They alleged the road was a result of lobbying by the timber and contract lobbies. While timber traders find it easy to gain access to the forest to cut trees on the pretext of laying roads, the contractor lobby feels secure that once the road is laid, it will frequently milch money in the name of asphalting, upgrade, etc.

Veeresh G, Chikkamagalur-based wildlife conservationist told Bangalore Mirror, “The area receives an annual rainfall of more than 300 cms. How can one take up a construction project in such a wet place? By cutting trees and ploughing through the forest the small streams and rivulets that drain into Nethravathi River are affected. At a time when people are upping in ante against Yettinahole, isn’t the government aware of the destruction caused by laying a new road? Fortunately, the forest department has not yet given its consent for the project.”