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Hubballi Ankola Rail Line | Habitat Loss

The Western Ghats are a World Heritage Site and a Biodiversity Hotspot. Home to the lion-tailed macaque, the Asian elephant and the Nilgiri tahr among 30 other threatened species, this land is a haven for flora and fauna. It is away from civilisation and protected from encroachment by its steep slopes. The pristine beauty, the untouched existence of the region is threatened.

The blare of a train, the sparks ignited by the friction between the wheels and the track. Chug, chug, chug, the sound of its movement. The train is coming, the vessel of doom. Thud, thud, thud, the trees are falling. The lion-tailed macaque is screaming, its call a war horn. What was once untouched is now scarred, only tree stumps left as a memory of what the land once was. The beginning of the end.

How did this come to be? The war of greed has not begun yet. Why will it come to be? Because we are allowing it to. In March 2020, Karnataka state government’s Wildlife Board approved a railway project that connects the city of Hubbali in the plains to the coastal city of Ankola. The 168km long rail line would pass through the Western Ghats, particularly the Kali Tiger Reserve and Bedti Conservation Reserve.

Trees will be felled and land of the wild will be stolen. Bridges will be built and tunnels will be carved. And to make it happen, humans would stay in the sacred land, settlement would be allowed. If the human settles, the human claims, and the human destroys. The pure land would be introduced to plastic. The tiger of the Kali Reserve would still hear a crunch upon thoughtlessly walking through the forest land, but this time, it would be the sound of plastic crinkling under its weight, not that of a dry leaf being crushed.

Two paragraphs ago we read what the beginning of the end would be like, but what about the end? UNESCO World Heritage Site, now a desert. Once a Biodiversity Hotspot, now a graveyard. Carbon sink becomes a carbon emitter due to human settlement. 2.2 lakh trees felled, twice as many lives lost. The bugs have no food, the birds have no home, and the all-knowing elephant knows who is to blame.

The rail line would create a gash in the fabric of the Sahyadris, the Western Ghats, a gash that would only expand with time. It will expand until there are no hills, just the gash and the gash alone. The Western Ghats deserve better, the fauna and flora which call it home deserve a pollution-free life. Western Ghats will shield us from the brunt of climate change, we need to save it from the brunt of human negligence.

-Archisha Gautam


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