In the second part of the series, our reporter traces the route of the proposed 12-km Shishila-Byrapur road, along the border of Dakshina Kannada and Chikkamagaluru districts, that is to cut through the catchment area of River Kapila. The Shishila-Byrapur road will cut through forests that house critically endangered species, the catchment area of River Kabini and the flow paths of its tributaries. While officials say it will take the pressure off Charmadi and Shiradi Ghat roads, environmentalists say larger lobbies are at work to help resorts in Chikkamagaluru; Locals are hoping for rich returns from tourism and higher property prices.
SHISHILA, DAKSHINA KANNADA: A proposed road of a mere 12 km, which is to run along the borders of Dakshina Kannada and Chikkamagaluru districts, has now triggered opposition from many quarters. Last month, historian Ramchandra Guha called the project ‘dubious’ in one of his columns, and it may be just that – a way to line the pockets of political leaders, both national and local.
The road has been planned under the Central government’s Bharatmala Project, though two major roads in its vicinity cut across the Western Ghats at Charmadi and Shiradi. The road-to-come between Shishila and Byrapura was once a cart lane, as per the records of forest department, and in 1960s it was widened to transport timber. When logging was banned, the road once again lay unused and was reclaimed by the forest. Currently, a few villagers use the path to walk to Byrapura and back.
Sources in the forest department state that the new road cannot be stopped as there is support for it from every quarter in the government. While the NHAI claims that not many trees will be cut down for the project, the environmentalists in Dakshin Kannada challenge the claim. Also, this is an expensive project – at a recent meeting in Chikkamagaluru headed by MP Shobha Karandlaje, the cost was estimated to be Rs 8,000 crore.
Environmentalists say that larger lobbies are working behind the Shishila-Byrapur road project. Five-star resorts located in Mudigere of Chikkamagaluru receive guests from across the country. The new road could shorten the distance to Dharmasthala for them. Otherwise, residents of both villages have little trade connections with each other. They are being persuaded by local leaders and businessmen, who promise them a better life through tourism.
The district administration in Chikkamagaluru says that the new road could take the pressure off roads through Charmadi and Shiradi. But environmentalists counter that saying the already existing two roads are sufficient, so why cut another through an ecologically fragile area? The new one will cut through forests that house critically endangered species, the catchment area of River Kapila and the flow paths of its tributaries, and uniquely dense jungles.
READ Part III here: Road projects to drive a wider knife into the Western Ghats
Says one environmentalist, “The project site of Shishila-Byrapura road is located about 8 km from Shishila village which has the famous Shishileshwara Temple, where thousands of Mahseer fish are protected and fed. The temple is located 32 km from Dharmasthala, well connected to different parts of the state”.
The path of the new road will also be through a region that receives the highest rainfall in the district, between 7,500 mm to 9,000 mm annually. The famous Ettinabhuja and Vanmbattu Gudda hill complex are located adjacent to the border here. The project area has the highest density of tree cover in the Ghats.
There are more reasons to worry about the wide, new road. Besides sheltering important wildlife including tigers, great Indian gaur, sloth bears and leopards, the area is home to critically endangered lion-tailed macaques and king cobras. The area is part of an elephant corridor between Shiradi and Charmadi ghats.
This is the birth place of River Kapila, with 134 sq km serving as its catchment area. All its important tributaries -- Ajjigundi, Meenagandi, Perikehole, Mattikolu, Ablubandi and Chapparahalla -- either take birth or flow through the area where the road has been proposed. The Kapila river joins Netravathi near Uppinangadi.
Ten years ago, villagers from Shishila and surrounding areas had protested against a mini-hydel company that was to be built across Kapila. The company was sent packing, even before the project was commissioned. But that urgency is missing now.
“We don’t see that kind of dedication among the people here,” says Dinesh Holla, coordinator in Mangaluru for Sahyadri Sanchaya.