The grass is indeed greener on the other side

Grasslands are incredibly effective in capturing atmospheric carbon and storing them in the soil, a process known as carbon sequestration

Updated - November 18, 2022 07:19 am IST

Published - November 17, 2022 11:30 pm IST

The grassland at Hesarghatta.

The grassland at Hesarghatta. | Photo Credit: BHAGYA PRAKASH K.

Hesaraghatta, a large reservoir along the river Arkavathy, used to be an important source of water for Bengaluru. In the last couple of months, Hesaraghatta has made a comeback into public memory and discourse. With the incessant and unseasonal rainfall lashing across the State, the reservoir is now nearly full and the last time this occurred was in 1994. It is no surprise that hundreds of people are thronging the place to catch a glimpse of this wonderful sight. Hesaraghatta is also in the news for another reason that has far greater implications for people living in the immediate vicinity as well as the city folk.

A bit of history

The quest to protect Hesaraghatta goes back several years. In early 2013, a proposal identified nearly 5,000 acres of government-owned lands to be declared as a conservation reserve. The proposal, based on both field and satellite data, highlighted the biodiversity supported by these grasslands and the water body, while emphasising the benefits of ecosystem services and water security.

A conservation reserve was sought under the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act because it enables government-owned land to be conserved while allowing legitimate user access. The rights continue to remain with legitimate users, and regulations are formed by a committee comprising the local representatives and the forest department. There would be no question of forced evictions or voluntary translocations of people.

There are several such conservation reserves across the country, and this was to be no exception. Except that after being on the backburner for several years, the proposal came up for hearing in January this year and the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL) rejected the proposal. The issue was taken up by the court and the board was asked to reconsider the proposal. Only a few weeks ago, the board met again and decided to form a committee to study the pros and cons of the proposal, specifically because there was sudden opposition to the proposal, largely based on misinformation and fear-mongering.

Another view of the grassland at Hesarghatta.

Another view of the grassland at Hesarghatta. | Photo Credit: BHAGYA PRAKASH K.

How grasslands help

Grassland-savanna ecosystems are one of the common habitats across the country, and span nearly 10% of India’s landscape. These ecosystems are not forested in the sense of having tall trees, and yet they are known to harbour some of the rarest forms of vegetation and provide several critical ecosystem functions.

Grasslands are incredibly effective in capturing atmospheric carbon and storing them in the soil, a process known as carbon sequestration. Despite the importance, the savanna-grassland ecosystems are conveniently painted as wastelands in policy documents. They are subsequently let to degrade or are converted to different land uses and parcelled off for infrastructure.

Ecosystem services and water security

How can a conservation reserve somewhere far away make our lives better? As a case in point, we have all experienced the consequences of rainfall and lack of city planning. The villagers surrounding the lake were spared from the wrath of floods largely because the lake was able to take in the excess runoff and hold it, slowly recharging wells and ensuring water security. Images of water overflowing from borewells were a common sight. By protecting the 5,000 acres of government-owned land, we would ensure that

Nearly 97 million litres of water per day can be stored and recharge our groundwater. This water will ensure the city has enough water, should we choose to restore the old water supply network. The farmers around the lake would directly benefit from being able to grow water-intensive cash crops. Plus, we all would have fresh air to breathe and less carbon in the atmosphere.

Potential for bioresources

Hesaraghatta also holds immense potential for bioresources. In 1957, a tiny little insect named Neodusmetia sangwani was discovered in Hesaraghatta. In 1960, this tiny insect was successfully deployed to control the rampant Rhodesgrass Scale infestation in the United States. In one of the few cases of successful biocontrol, the scale infestation was reduced, and the golf and cattle ranch industry was saved upwards of $200 million/year that they would have otherwise spent on pest management using toxic chemicals.

Our myopic thirst for development will only result in short-term gains. Failure to protect the unique grasslands and the surrounding habitat comes at a future cost of having missed out on ecosystem services and water security for the entire city. Can we afford to go on with double standards where we happily cheer the release of an exotic large cat in place of an extinct one and call it panacea for grassland conservation, while at the same time, we stop short of walking the talk and protect the last remaining natural tracts of grasslands around us?

(Dr. Seshadri K.S. is a faculty member at ATREE, Bengaluru. Views are personal.)

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.