Opposition mounts against threat to Hesarghatta grasslands

The issue gains prominence in the wake of speculation that the grasslands are being considered as a potential site for a film city.   | Photo Credit: BHAGYA PRAKASH

As one section of citizens are heaving a sigh of relief, albeit temporarily, after being assured that the tree park project inside Turahalli forest has been put on hold, opposition is mounting against threats to the Hesaraghatta grasslands. After a proposal to declare the grasslands as a conservation reserve was reportedly shot down in the last meeting of the State Wildlife Board, several members of the board are registering their dissent.

At least three members have written dissent notes to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) against the proceedings of the January 19 meeting, which was chaired by Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa. Sources said the Hesaraghatta conservation reserve proposal was shot down allegedly at the insistence of Yelahanka MLA S.R. Vishwanath, who is known to be close to the Chief Minister. Board members have since raised questions apart from objections about the MLA’s presence in the meeting.

Board members said they are yet to receive the minutes of the meeting. Two members confirmed to The Hindu that they have formally voiced their dissent.

“I have expressed my dissent. The issue of Hesaraghatta grasslands is very important and it has several ramifications. Many species will suffer. It needs to be discussed in detail,” said one of them.

Another member said he too would be filing his objections. “Even before the meeting began, we were made to wait outside for over half-an-hour. The minutes of the meeting were not circulated in advance, and there were many changes,” he alleged.

Tyag Uthapa, who has written to the PCCF, asked how the MLA was present in a core body meeting of the wildlife board. “Every subject was discussed, but the minute Hesaraghatta came up, he started started speaking. What’s the point of a core body when you have to brush aside our opinions? We were not given a chance to speak,” he said.

Environmentalists are drawing parallels with what happened with the Hubballi-Ankola railway line project. Last year, the High Court of Karnataka directed that no further steps be taken based on the recommendation of the State Board for Wild Life, headed by the Chief Minister, on the proposal for diversion of 595.64 hectares of forest for the new project after pointing out that the decision-making process in the 14th meeting held on March 11 calls for closer scrutiny. The court had said that the decision was taken by allowing non-member Ministers to participate in the meeting held only 11 days after an earlier meeting in which it was unanimously decided to reject the proposal.

Now, apart from online petitions to save the last remaining grasslands of Bengaluru gaining steam, conservationists and citizens are planning to approach Forest Minister Aravind Limbavali. The issue gains prominence especially in the wake of speculation that the grasslands are being considered as a potential site for a film city.

Mahesh Bhat, a photographer and filmmaker who has been working on preserving the Arkavathy catchment for over 15 years, said they were awaiting the minutes of the meeting to know if the proposal has been deferred or rejected.

Environmentalist Vijay Nishanth said the grasslands are a natural reserve that belongs to the entire city and citizens will launch an agitation if the government does not roll back its decision.

Why fight to save the grasslands

The Hesaraghatta lakebed and grasslands in the surrounding catchment area are an important reservoir of biodiversity and a refuge for endangered wildlife species like the Lesser Florican and the leopard. A survey commissioned by the Karnataka Biodiversity Board had reportedly found it is home to over 130 species of birds, many mammals, and butterflies and millions of insects.

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 1:54:54 AM |

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