A battle royal over grassland

ESG had filed a public interest litigation plea challenging the construction of facilities of DRDO, ISRO and BARC

Grass for Amrit Mahal cattle? Or research in strategic technologies? For about two years, the grazing acres of Challakere’s Voravinakaval and Khudapura villages were the conflict zone of environmentalists ranged on the one side and defence, space and atomic energy establishments on the other.

The terrain here is rocky, dry and hot with little rain or ground water. Not unlike it, the path of DRDO’s ATR was not smooth.

Semi-arid Chitradurga district where it is located is described by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research as an agro-ecological sub region of the Eastern Ghats, the Tamil Nadu uplands and the Deccan Plateau, as a green tribunal ruling notes.

Bengaluru-based Environment Support Group (ESG) had filed a public interest litigation plea challenging the construction of the facilities of the DRDO, ISRO and BARC. These agencies have been totally allotted about 10,000 acres of land. The ESG argued before the National Green Tribunal that their activities would wipe out precious grasslands that were traditionally protected for the local breed of Amrit Mahal cattle. The area would also endanger vulnerable local fauna such as deer, black buck, wild boar and the Great Indian bustard, it contended.

Stay orders were issued and works stopped for over a year. The NGT in 2014 allowed the ATR with certain stipulations. While criticising what it called diversion of the grasslands in violation of forest conservation laws, the NGT however, upheld the ATR, with certain restrictions. “This project of DRDO is shown as absolutely vital for the security of India especially in the light of terrorists’ attacks in different parts of the world.” However, there will be no commercial aircraft; no disturbing the habitats of the black buck and deer population; no activities with bombs, an informed source said.

Nearby, the IISc. operates a Technology Training Centre. At its own area, ISRO last October conducted a few flying tests related to its Chandrayaan-2 lunar mission. A scientist working at the ATR said satellite maps of the area show more greenery within the facility in the last year or so, compared to older maps.

Water and jobs

Chitradurga, with little rainfall and frequent droughts, is a perennially thirsty place.

Wells here don’t generally have water. Some of the ground water sources are said to have shown toxic arsenic and fluorides. However, the coming up of ATR and the campuses of the other agencies may mean a small respite, after all, for a few neighbouring villages.

The multi-agency complex will get its water supply from Mari Kanive or Vani Vilasa Sagar reservoir, about 70 km away, said a scientist connected with the project.

Has a government-funded facility brought jobs and livelihood to the residents here? Yes and no. Local labour related to construction has benefited somewhat; some jobbers hired on site have not had to look out for work for more than a year, but are unhappy about walking back to the town, 7 km away. A few men at Navilekunte en route are not too sure of the goodies. “Our cattle still have nowhere to graze. Many have sold their cattle,” one said.

Challakere must now wait to see how all this will unfold for it.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 12:18:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/a-battle-royal-over-grassland/article18586662.ece

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