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Caught between development and conservation

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Pilgrim centre: From less than a couple of lakh devotees a few years ago, the number of devotees to Chamundi Hills has now increased to 10 million.
Pilgrim centre: From less than a couple of lakh devotees a few years ago, the number of devotees to Chamundi Hills has now increased to 10 million.

R. Krishna Kumar and Muralidhara Khajane

Government’s decision to notify Chamundi Hills has met with mixed reactions from public

Residents of villages that abut Chamundi Hills are worried they will be displaced

C.H. Vijayashankar has said the development of the hills will be in harmony with its environment

MYSORE: The rapid urbanisation of Mysore and its horizontal expansion is altering the city’s landscape beyond recognition. But Chamundi Hills remained immune to such developments till recently and provided greenery and lung space.

The projected growth of Mysore is set to accelerate the pace of development and bring about a change in the population density. In anticipation of the growth, the Mysore Urban Development Authority (MUDA) has identified land, developed it and converted it into sites on the eastern ridge of Chamundi Hills.

While the city is expanding at a rapid rate, Chamundi Hills is under tremendous anthropogenic stress given its growing popularity as a pilgrimage centre. From less than a couple of lakh devotees a few years ago, the number of devotees has now increased to 10 million.

It is against this backdrop that the Government announced that Chamundi Hills would be a notified area. The announcement was met with mixed reactions from the public.

The people of Chamundibetta and Tavarekatte villages recently took out a procession against the proposed notification as they were afraid of being displaced from their villages. In a memorandum submitted to the Deputy Commissioner, they made it clear that they would not leave their villages under any circumstances.

Over 700 families are living in the two villages, which abut Chamundi Hills and 400 people have voting rights.

Venkataramu of Tavarekatte village said that most of the residents of the village belonged to the Bhovi caste and hailed from Andhra Pradesh. He said their forefathers came to Mysore during the construction of the road to Chamundi Hills and the Krishnarajasagara Reservoir. Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar gave land to their forefathers to construct houses, he added.

Environmentalists too are concerned about the proposed notification as they fear that “development” will result in destruction of greenery.

Ironically, the Government, which has decided to declare Chamundi Hills as a notified area to promote “development”, is apathetic with regard to issuing a similar notification to protect the ecological integrity of the hill.

In the past, conservation groups such as Mysore Amateur Naturalists and environmentalists such as U.N. Ravikumar have tried to create public awareness about the need to conserve Chamundi Hills by declaring a buffer zone around it. What environmentalists had sought was a 500-metre buffer zone around the hills and a ban on all activities that threatened the ecology of the region.

A section of the public came together and said that to prevent encroachment and further destruction of green cover, the authorities should introduce the concept of core conservation zone where land can only be used for social forestry and similar activities.

In addition, there was a need to introduce peripheral conservation area with restriction on land use pattern that was in conformity to the ecology and environment of Chamundi Hills, according to environmentalists. But the citizens’ report submitted under the banner of the Mysore Agenda Task Force received a muted response from the Government.

Though C.H. Vijayashankar, MP, has said that development of Chamundi Hills would be in harmony with its environment, there are few takers for this line of argument.

The Government’s decision to declare Chamundi Hills as a notified area is expected to increase the tug-of-war between development and conservation, the result of which will have a profound impact on Mysore.

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