EnvironmentPolicy Matters


Meera Bhardwaj:

Although a public consultation has been called on the issue of formation of Greater Hesaraghatta Grasslands Conservation Reserve (CR), Bengaluru, now is the state government working towards a compromise on the aspect of its area & extent. The state forest department had mooted a proposal for an area of 5010 acres of Hesaraghatta as CR before the Karnataka State Wildlife Board which was rejected in January 2021 and is now once again before the State Wildlife Board on the directions of the High Court.

However, activists are adamant on 5010 acres of Hesaraghatta being declared as a Conservation Reserve while one of the wildlife board members has opined that 2800 acres of the wetlands, grasslands and scrub forests could be proposed for formation of the Conservation Reserve.

In a letter to the CM and Karnataka State Wildlife Board chairperson, Siddharth Goenka, member stated, “If the government is working towards a compromise, there is a viable alternative. In case, the state government is unable to declare the entire 5010 acres as a CR, a smaller area of 2800 acres consisting of 345 acres of grassland, about 1000 acres of scrub jungle that is adjacent and to the East of the grassland and the 1500 acres of Hesaraghatta reservoir could be considered for the proposed CR. This is the core area and I have visited the place multiple times, studied the topography, and discussed the issue with forest department.”

However, Vijay Nishanth, who is spearheading the Save Hesaraghatta Campaign (which has received widespread support from individuals and many city and environmental organizations) and had filed a PIL in High Court questioning the wildlife Board’s rejection says, “It is not right that you leave such a large chunk of area out of the 5010 acres proposed for its formation. The High Court has given its direction on this matter comprehensively and it should be respected by the state government. Further, the nature of the land cannot be changed as per the court.”

He adds, “If we must save Bengaluru’s hydrology and biodiversity, then Hesaraghatta CR should be formed in its entirety comprising 5010 acres. Already Bengaluru’s green cover has reduced from 70.22 % to 2.71 % in the last few decades, therefore, it is imperative that on the directions of the High Court, the state government declares the CR to protect the city from further eco-hazards and degradation.”

Further, 8 wildlife board members – Tyag Uthappa, Dr Shivaprakash, Malleshappa, Naveen J S, KSN Chikkerur, G Susheel, Vinod Kumar B Naik, and Dr Somashekar A R have written to the chief minister and said, “Hesaraghatta needs to be saved at all costs for present and future benefits. Rich in biodiversity, it is an important watershed area and is a research area while existing agriculture and animal husbandry research is already happening. The CR area falls in government land and its formation in no way affects the livelihood of the locals.”

In view of some misconceptions and baseless arguments prevailing in the public domain, it needs to be clarified, adds Goenka. “Further, the formation of the CR will not displace local people & they will have a say in managing the conservation reserve. They can move about, use the roads, live, work normally. Nothing will change with its formation and local communities will remain the custodians of the CR.”

As per Section 27 (a)-(e) of the WLPA, communities residing in the CR play an indispensable part in the protection of the fauna and flora of the area. The 8 wildlife board members stress, “Grasslands are not wastelands and they help in reducing the impact of global warming and climate change caused by excess of carbon dioxide. This is an opportunity to gain water security of Bengaluru as Hesaraghatta is a large catchment area of River Arkavathy and brings in 98 million litres of water every day.”

If the state government takes the landmark decision of declaring Greater Hesaraghatta Grasslands as a Conservation Reserve, it will be a perfect example for other states to emulate, the members emphatically state.

Further, in the event of public consultation (alongwith online consultation) being held, it should be done in multiple locations as it is a Bengaluru centric problem and not a local issue, activists and members opine.