Around five years ago, a grand plan was mooted to save the city’s last big grassland patch: Hessarghatta. The bone-dry lake and its environs have roared back to life after successive years of good rain, but the proposal remains stuck in bureaucratic mire.
Now, however, there could be a glimmer of hope as conservationists, officials of the Department of Forests, and local area representatives have scheduled meetings on the possible ways of taking the plan forward.
The progress over the proposal that seeks to protect nearly 5,000 acres — the largest such protected areas in the city — has been slow, with only a few milestones achieved, including surveying of boundaries. The key step of the department sending the proposal to the Karnataka State Wildlife Board has remained on the back burner.
Since the proposal by environmental activists Mahesh Bhat and Ramki Sreenivasan was submitted to the department in 2013, Hessarghatta, as with most areas in the city, have seen some rapid growth. In their proposal, they had noted unregulated vehicular movement, extraction of mud, and commercial activities as among the major threats to the grassland.
“These threats remains, particularly of garbage dumping in the area owing to the increased habitations around. But by declaring it as a conservation reserve, we can ensure that the core habitat remains unchanged as serious threats may come within a decade,” said Mr. Bhat.
The hope was that once it is declared as a conservation reserve, commercial activities could be curtailed, while the department would play a critical role in maintaining the protected area. With over 221 species of flora and fauna, the grassland and marshy waters have been one of the few places left in the city where rare migratory bird species can be spotted. The Bombay Natural History Society had even listed Hessarghatta grassland as one of the “potential” Important Birding Areas in the country, considering the sighting of lesser floricans in the area.
Punati Shridhar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Head of Forest Force), clarified that they were keen about the Hessarghatta proposal, which, along with the proposal to protect Bababudangiri Shola forests, were key to protecting hitherto unprotected grasslands.
Though declaration as a conservation reserve can occur with just a public consultation, department officials said it was a “good practice” to get written consent from the gram panchayats where the reserve is proposed to be set up. This caution comes from a fear of political objections.
There seemed to be headway on this when a meeting between local area representatives and Department of Forests officials was slated. Though the meeting was deferred as officials did not turn up, MLA for Yelahanka S.R. Vishwanath, in whose jurisdiction the proposed conservation reserve falls, is optimistic about the proposal.
“We have to declare it. It is a lung space that must be protected, particularly considering that Bengaluru’s urban sprawl is fast approaching the area,” he said.
Any decision could be taken only after the scheduled meeting, during which “certain modalities” of the proposal could be explained to the representative. “I am for laws that do not allow for development within the reserve. But, I want clarity that there will be no problem with the buffer zone as there are a lot of farmland close to Hessarghatta,” said Mr. Vishwanath, and added that a meeting with the local gram panchayats would be held soon.
Dipika Bajpai, Deputy Conservator of Forests (Bengaluru Urban), said a proposal would be chalked out and sent to the government, after which it was up to the wildlife board — which has to be reconstituted after the new government took over — to approve.