The issue of declaration of Greater Hessarghatta Grasslands Conservation Reserve (CR) is once again before the Karnataka State Board for Wildlife (KSBW). In the aftermath of the Karnataka High Court order on July 29th to reconsider the issue, the Hessarghatta CR proposal will be taken up on September 5th but this time, it is under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai.
Speaking to Green Minute, KSBW member, Siddharth Goenka said, “The issue is on the agenda of the 5th meeting and I hope the CR proposal is cleared. We cannot make the same mistakes which was earlier committed. For water conservation and water scarcity issues of Bengaluru, the formation of Hessarghatta grasslands CR is very important. Since the High Court has clearly said the Board had not applied its mind while rejecting it, I am hopeful, this does not happen again. With flooding problems, people of Bengaluru have seen what happens when we don’t preserve our ecosystems.”
Former Karnataka PCCF, B K Singh says the formation of the Hessarghatta Conservation Reservation will get protection from hunters, poachers and encroachers.
He adds, “With the formation of Hessarghatta CR, wildlife will receive all protection under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. However, the CR proposal has weaknesses as the area is not notified as “forest area” under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. When the grassland area was transferred from Animal Husbandry to Forest department, it should have been notified as forest area, thereby receiving full protection. Further, rights of people are not extinguished and for this, revenue records have to be checked to ascertain whether people have grazing and other rights in this 2000-hectare area.”
According to Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, Section 36A, the State Government may, after having consultations with the local communities, declare any area owned by the Government, particularly the areas adjacent to National Parks and sanctuaries and those areas which link one protected area with another, as a “Conservation Reserve” for protecting landscapes, seascapes, flora and fauna and their habitat: Provided that where the Conservation Reserve includes any land owned by the Central Government, its prior concurrence shall be obtained before making such declaration. Under Section 36B, a Conservation Reserve Management Committee has to formed to advise the Chief Wild Life Warden to conserve, manage and maintain the conservation reserve.
Urban conservationist and activist Vijay Nishanth who had petitioned the High Court on this issue said, “We hope the Board accepts the proposal. Otherwise, why should the High Court send it back for reconsideration. This is the right time for the state government to set things right for Bengaluru which is facing problems of water scarcity, floods, congestion, encroachments and extinction of green covers.”
Mahesh Bhat, photographer, activist and petitioner said, “We have been working on Hessarghatta for over 15 years and studied it as a catchment area. It was Ramki Srinivasan, me and K S Sheshadri who had drawn up the proposal and I have been almost single-handedly pursuing the matter with the departments and government. We have a herculean task ahead of us to make sure that the matter gets sufficient support when it is tabled at SBWL.”
Bhatt further added the grassland area isn’t 5010 acres – the total area includes – 345 acres of grassland, 1000 acres of scrub jungle, 1500 acres of lake bed and the rest is where the Animal Husbandry department carries out its activities. Last month, conservationists, ecologists and bird watchers gathered around the Hessarghatta lake area and demanded the proposal be accepted by the state board.
HIGH COURT ORDERS
Earlier on 19.01.2021, former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa had rejected the formation of Greater Hessarghatta Grasslands Conservation Reserve based on objections raised by “special invitee” to the board meeting, Yelahanka MLA S R Vishwanath who was not a board member. Disregarding the opinion of the board members who favoured the formation of CR, the former chief minister had rejected the proposal lock, stock and barrel.
The High Court quashing the KSBW decision had remarked, “This had been done in a cryptic and cavalier manner without adhering to the criteria stipulated in Section 36A of the Wildlife Protection Act. And further, this order reflects non-application of mind. The matter is remitted to the Board to take a decision afresh on the proposal submitted by Chief Conservator of Forests for declaring Hessarghatta Grassland as Conservation Reserve”