Meera Bhardwaj:

The issue of conservation of Hessarghatta grasslands is back with the Karnataka State Wildlife Board (KSWB). Setting aside the decision made by the wildlife board, the Karnataka High Court on Friday remanded the proposal “back to the board” and reconsider declaring more than 5000 acres as “Conservation Reserve” freshly. Presided over by acting Chief Justice Alok Aradhe and Justice Vishwajit Shetty, the High Court today allowed the main petition and reverted back this “significant conservation issue” to the state government for reconsideration.

The case was represented by Nikhil K, advocate and another connected in this matter. It may be recalled the Hessarghatta case was posted for hearing on IA filed by the respondents to modify the interim order passed by the High Court on 26th May, 2021. With the state government failing to get the interim stay vacated on the issue of Greater Hessarghatta Grasslands Conservation Reserve, the High Court’s directions today is likely to save the 5010 acres of these precious grasslands in Bengaluru. Earlier, the state forest department had in fact, said it was happy to put the proposal for formation of the Greater Hessarghatta Grasslands Conservation Reserve in the next Karnataka State Wildlife Board meeting.

It was in 2013-14 that the State Forest department and the Animal Husbandry department had drawn up a proposal for declaring 5,010 acres of land area as “Greater Hessarghatta Grasslands Conservation Reserve” as per Section 36A of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. However, for some or the other reason, the proposal never saw the light of the day. On January 19, 2021, the 15th state wildlife board meeting chaired by B S Yeddyurappa, the then chief minister rejected the proposal for formation of the Greater Hessarghatta Grasslands Conservation Reserve in Bengaluru. This was done under pressure from Yelahanka MLA S R Vishwanath despite most board members favoring the proposal.

In the aftermath of this, a public interest litigation was filed by urban conservationist Vijay Nishanth, Project Vruksha Foundation on this issue in the Karnataka High Court. Observing that the board meeting was not held as per law, the High Court passed an interim order (May 26, 2021) directing the state government not to alter the “present status of the grasslands in any manner”. Since the pristine ecosystem was home to different species of flora and fauna and was facing threat from various lobbies like the real estate, environmentalists went to the High Court for declaration of this area as a Conservation Reserve.

Meanwhile, the state wildlife board and Animal Husbandry department failed to file their objections in the High Court. However, later the state government filed an application to vacate the interim order in the interest of justice and equity. Filing a detailed Statement of Objections, the state government sought modification and vacating the interim order dated 26.5.2021. Welcoming today’s High Court order, petitioner Vijay Nishanth added, “It is a victory for conservation. In the interest of biodiversity and saving the unique grassland ecosystem, we are hopeful the state government will take up the proposal for formation of the Hessarghatta grasslands conservation reserve and save Bengaluru and its precious ecosystem.”

Hessarghatta is the last standing unique grassland ecosystem in Bengaluru. Both the grasslands and the lake ecosystem support a rare birdlife ranging from Greater Spotted Eagle to Lesser Florican and many other raptors. Further, this ecosystem supports Indian Leopard, Slender Loris, Smooth coated Otters and many other grassland species.

According to the Karnataka Biodiversity Board, this unique grassland ecosystem in the surrounding catchment area is an important refuge for many an endangered species. Further, their survey has revealed the presence of 130 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and other insects. So, for environmentalists, conservationists and birders, it has been a do or die battle to save these precious grassland ecosystems from diversion for real estate development in Bengaluru.

(Photo Credit for the first image: Tharangini )