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Environmentalists oppose highway widening project

Environmentalists have opposed the National Highway Authority of India’s plans to widen the National Highway 4A from Belagavi to Panjim in Goa saying that it would do “irreparable damage” to environment.

In a letter to the Central Empowered Committee that is tasked with clearing such environmentally-sensitive projects, environmentalists and wildlife conservationists have pointed out that deforestation would have a devastating effect on the ecology of the Western Ghats and affect the tiger habitat areas in Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra.

Secondly, there was no need for widening the highway as the Union government is already planning doubling the railway track in the same region, they argue.

As much as 85 km of the highway passes through Karnataka and around 70 in Goa. It is being developed into a four-lane highway with toll gates at some points. It passes through the Kali Tiger Reserve, Dandeli Sanctuary, Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park. The existing road is a two-way highway. Already, traffic on this road causes a large number of wildlife deaths and widening would increase road kill, activists say.

The user agencies, National Highway Authority of India and the Public Works Department in Goa, have sought for clearance of forest on over 90 hectares of pristine land.

Activists say that this would cause unforeseeable damage.

“Western Ghats has a complex eco system. The least we can do is to protect and preserve it,” says Giridhar Kulkarni, a signatory to the letter.

“Actually, there is no need for road widening at all. The government is already going ahead with doubling the railway track between Karnataka and Goa that passes through nearly the same route. Over 135 hectares of forest is being cleared for that project,” he says.

The project has seen opposition earlier also. In June this year, 150 environmentalists, scientists and activists wrote to the Union government and the Central Empowered Committee asking them to drop the project. “We only hope the government understands the dangers involved in the project and drops it,” he said.

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