Meera Bhardwaj

The Yeddyurappa government has done it again. It quietly has gone ahead and got the Eco Sensitive Zone [ESZ] of Bannerghatta National Park (the last remaining lung space of Bengaluru) reduced by a whopping 100 square kilometers.  

This is in spite of many promises, statements of support and assurances made by three BJP Members of Parliament – P C Mohan and Tejasvi Surya as also Rajeev Chandrashekar for retaining 269 sq kms, as per the 2016 draft ESZ notification. 

No amount of protests by environmentalists and citizens’ appeals running to more than a lakh as also litigation – seems to have worked as the real estate and commercial lobbies have managed to subvert the opinion of the masses.

As per the final notification issued by the central government on March 11, 2020 – the ESZ of Bannerghatta has been reduced to a mere 168.84 square kilometers while the ESZ extent to a shoddy 100 meters (on the northern boundary of the park facing Bengaluru) to 1 KM around the national park.  Although the final notification says objections and appeals have been duly considered by the Centre (as they had advised the state government to go in for 2016 notification] but finally had to notify 169 sq kms – bowing to the state government’s recommendation.

Spread over 260.51 sq kms, the Bannerghatta National Park is situated on the south eastern corner of the state – bordering Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary on the south and Thali, Thali Extension and Javalgiri Reserve forests of Tamilnadu on the south east which is a prime intact habitat of elephants for 1400 sq kms. On the northern side, it is the terminal point for the very significant ‘Mysore Elephant Reserve’ witnessing migration of elephants from Tamilnadu to Karnataka and back. 

Environmentalists have expressed their serious concern over the reduced extent and area as Bannerghatta has a very good breeding population of Asiatic Elephants as also leopards, chitals, sloth bears, sambars, gaurs wild dogs, slender loris and a variety of endangered bird species.

The government has shown its true colors, played a double game and has not listened to the voice of their own MPs or the appeals of one lakh citizens. 

Urban Conservationist Vijay Nishant adds, “As it is – the wildlife population including elephants and antelopes and leopards are spilling over on the northern side of the national park. The ESZ is so thin here – just 100 meters bordering Bengaluru that in the days to come – we will see many more man-elephant conflicts. Added to this, all kinds of commercial and industrial activities are already flourishing in the northern side of the Park, now with reduction, it will be a free for all situation.”

Added to these – commercial and industrial activities have been encouraged till date in the ESZ with many projects in real estate [KBH’s Surya City and new layouts and religious centres] and industries including a bottling plant have been set up. Many quarrying units and mining units had dumped their waste and debris in the watershed areas of the national park resulting in pollution of the water holes frequented by wildlife as per a survey and study done by state forest department and Mines and Geology department. 

However, no new or existing commercial mining stone quarrying and crushing units are completely prohibited within one kilometer from the boundary of the national park. This is as per Supreme Court orders dated 4 August 2oo6 in the Godhavarman case and Goa Foundation case dated 21 April 2o14. A forest official adds, “The one kilometre ban on mining will put a stop to stone crushing and quarrying and end the spoilage of water sources in and around the PA.”

Bhanu Prakash, coordinator of Bannerghatta Nature Conservation Trust which has filed a case on the ESZ issue in the Karnataka High Court says, “This is pandering to the various lobbies – real estate and industries who would like to gobble up these spaces for their activities. The government has sided up with these people who have no concern for the wellbeing of citizens or the wildlife. The only course left for us now is knocking the doors of the Supreme Court in the wake of government’s betrayal.”

Meanwhile, citizens’ groups, environmentalists and NGOs get together to decide their future course of action. They have decided to launch a protest on the drastic reduction of ESZ around BNP as also take the legal route depending on expert opinion and discussion. 

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