City forest is being eaten alive

Gunjur Palya forest is slowly being parcelled out to private and government bodies, say senior forest department officials

Published: 08th February 2017 10:44 PM  |   Last Updated: 09th February 2017 05:34 AM   |  A+A-

Residents around Gunjur Palya forest, who cycle and camp here, have been actively trying to protect it

Express News Service

BENGALURU:  A small patch of deemed forest in southeast Bengaluru could be gobbled up by a patchwork of private trusts and a temple. The forest department is resisting it but the revenue department (under which this “plantation” falls) is releasing the land to various government and private bodies, according to documents accessed by City Express. 

Gunjur Palya forest that runs through Panathur and Gunjur villages, in Krishnarajapuram taluk, is a deemed forest and a plantation according to the land records. The forest department has been requesting the revenue department to hand over the land to them, to protect this lung space. 

The forest department has also been actively opposing the land grants made by the Revenue Department to private and government bodies. 

CE has a copy of the letter the Deputy Conservator of Forests, Bangalore Urban Division, has written in 2012 to The Additional Chief Secretary with the Forest, Ecology and Environment Department and The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Head of Forest Force).

Who are the Protectors?
The letter states that the Gunjur Palya forest covers around 165 acres and 24 guntas and has a thick growth of natural grown forest and plantation raised by the forest department since 1985. 
The forest comes under the jurisdiction of KR Puram range and is protected and maintained by the Range Forest Officer and the staff of the KR Puram Range.

The vegetation here includes Acacia Auriculiformis and other miscellaneous plants, and they have been raised and maintained by the forest department. The acreage has “all the characteristics of forests”, asserts the letter. But the Revenue Department, the letter states, has not transferred the ownership to the forest department despite many requests. 

The revenue department, the DCF’s letter says, has instead granted land to various institutions, trusts and ashrams for development. The letter states that this is in violation of Forest Conservation Act-1980 and “contrary to the orders and directions” of the Supreme Court’s judgment in TN Godavarman V/s Union of India. The judgment “has spelt out that such nature of land has to be protected at all costs, irrespective of the ownership of the land”.

Gainers and Losers
The records show that BMTC has been granted 23 acres in Panthur village, Bangalore Institute for Higher Education and Research Trust has been granted 7 acres in Gunjur village, Department of Youth Services and Sports for construction of International Sports Stadium gets 24 acres and 4 guntas and an Ashraya Project has been granted 3 acres. 

Two proposals have been made to grant 6 acres to Kaginele Samasthe and one acre to construct Beereshwara Temple. 

Currently Dipika Bajpai is the Deputy Conservator of Forests (Bengaluru Urban Division) and she had recently (in May 2016) objected to a move by the revenue department to grant 10 acres of land to such private trusts. 

The revenue department, the forest department’s records show, has granted 1 acre and 8 guntas for Beereshwara Temple, 3 acres to Ashraya Yojane and 5 acres to Sri Nikethana Trust. 

What Could be Lost
Dipika’s letter to the Additional Chief Secretary with Forest, Ecology and Environment Department reads: “Over the years, this patch of plantation has now transformed into a beautiful forest in the heart of city comprising valuable tree stock and high natural regeneration. Such areas in a grey urban landscape serve as ground water recharging bodies as well as carbon sinks.

The intangible value of these wood stocks becomes all the more relevant in the background of current climate change regime and droughts. 

Preserving them is of utmost importance and in the benefit of larger public good”. 
Residents of apartments living around the forests use this forested area to camp and cycle through, and actively work to protect it from garbage-dumping mafia. “If the concerned authorities do not protect this forest, then it will be a huge loss to us,” says Salini Sasidharan, a resident of near by Asset Aura apartment.

DCF Dipika’s letter reiterates that all the communications/ letters from the DCF to the Deputy Commissioner’s Office, Bangalore Urban District, requesting cancellation of illegal grants were ignored. It reads that the “grants are completely illegal in nature and a serious violation of Forest Conservation Act - 1980 and contempt of the orders issued by the Highest Court of the Country”. 

Changing Status
Gunjurpalya being a plantation does not enjoy the protected status of either Reserved Forest or Protected Forest which are statutory categories under various Forest Acts. These statuses also come with a set of strict regulations and penalties for violations.

Forest Department officials say that if the ownership is transferred to the department, they could propose for the land to be placed under one of the two categories. “But the Revenue Department hesitates to hand over the land as the land prices are very high,” says a senior forest official who did not want to be named.
Despite repeated attempts, no senior official was available for comment from the Revenue Department.


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