Meera Bhardwaj

Karnataka government has decided to shift the “Tree Park’ proposed in Turahalli Minor Forest on the outskirts of Bengaluru to an alternative site in the Yelahanka constituency. The state government’s proposal to set up a Tree Park in a natural forest and one of the last remaining lung spaces in the IT city, had garnered month long protests, agitation and walkathon. 

Forest officers have been instructed by the forest minister to fence the minor forest properly and temporarily stop the proposed tree park here which was taken up under Mission 2022 Bengaluru. This was announced by Arvind Limbavalli, state forest minister after visiting the forest area and listening to the grievances of the local residents and after discussion with the state chief minister.

Citizens, activists and environmental groups of the IT hub of Bengaluru had voiced their protests as they wanted the proposed “Tree Park” to be shifted from the Turahalli Minor Forests – a major lung space for south and south western parts of the city. Already, the crowded metropolis with a population of 1.3 crore is suffering hot and dusty weather conditions due to continuing decimation of its green cover for linear structures and expansion of its roads, metro rail, flyovers, underpasses, powerlines to accommodate the incoming population of software engineers, ITES and other workers from across the country. 

Forest minister making statement on turahalli minor forest

Activists had stressed the formation of a tree park in Turahalli was nothing but a non-forestry activity attracting forest clearance under Forest (conservation)Act 1980. However, even without any forest clearances, forest officials had started the process of destroying the lung space of the ever-growing Bengaluru city. This was also in violation of many Supreme Court directions and a contempt of the highest court of the land and violation of Section 2 of FCA. 

In the last few weeks, the intensity of protests and opposition had increased as people were worried about their environment, its immediate effect on ground water recharge and the adverse and detrimental effects of destroying “natural forests” in their midst which is home to hundreds of bird species and a varied flora and fauna. 

Recently, thousands of people had taken part to voice their protest. Leo Saldanha, Chairman of the Turahalli Urban Forest Committee had said, “A tree park is not a natural ecosystem and further, it is not the job of the forest department to create tree parks in the state. Turahalli MF should be made accessible to birders, for bouldering, for environmental education, etc and as per law and in the interest public health and environment.’

Abdul Aleem, Co-founder of Changemakers of Kanakpura Road had said, “The tree park with its walkways, cycle tracks, toilets, parking space and whatnot would have promoted tourism and destroyed the natural ecosystem – its unique flora and fauna.”

Welcoming the government’s decision, people living in and around this area said the 700-acre Turahalli forests and the adjoining 550-acre reserve forest have become part of their lives today and expressed their happiness on the shifting of the tree park from Turahalli.

Srisha, an IT engineer added, “There is a plethora of wildlife – spotted deer, peacocks, wild boars, hares, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies to bees and wasps. Our bird watching activities on a regular scale has revealed 120 bird species. I thank the government for its decision.”

It is a victory for people of Bengaluru who were in the forefront of protests, said Vijay Nishanth, Biodiversity Board member and Urban conservationist who had appealed for stoppage of the park proposal. In fact, the construction works taken up in the Notified Turahalli MF, Machohalli RF, Kadugodi RF and Gulukmale deemed forest in Bengaluru was pretty distressing.

He added, “There would have been lot of legal implication if a tree park was formed in Turahalli MF. Numerous rulings of the Supreme Court have advocated the need for following these laws without fault. The apex court has also urged an urgent need to step away from anthropocentric considerations and instead be guided by the Principle of Ecocentrism. At the regional level, Turahalli Minor Forests ought to be protected as per the Karnataka Forest Act, 1963 and associated rules and the Karnataka Forest Manual.”

Turahalli Minor Forests has been declared under Section 35(1) as “minor forests” constituted under the provisions of Mysore Forest Act, 1900 and so, it has been saved as “protected forests” under the Karnataka Forest Act, 1963. Further, the provisions made for “District Forests” shall be applicable to “Protected Forests” also.

As per Lakshman Rao Committee report on Lakes and Tanks of Bangalore, they have recommended “Creation of tree parks in disused and dried-up lakes” of Bangalore. These threatened lake lands could be utilised for creating tree parks. So, now they can shift from Turahalli to create the tree park in the last remaining vestiges of degraded forests. 

Finally, for several decades now, Turahalli has been protected and conserved by people’s enthusiastic efforts and involvement and in active collaboration with the Forest Department and maybe, this has helped stave off multiple threats to its existence.