BENGALURU: In a major setback to efforts being made for the protection of Bannerghatta National Park, citizens and environmental groups seem to be fighting a losing battle to save a 100 sqkm area in the Eco Sensitive Zone (ESZ) of the forest, which is the last remaining lung space for the concrete jungle of Bengaluru. Despite the Centre asking the state government to review and retain the original 2016 ESZ proposal of 268.96 sqkm, the state Forest Department has gone against this and recommended retaining the 2018 ESZ proposal of having only 168.84 sqkm of ESZ.
Earlier, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests had requested the state to reconsider the proposal and examine the possibility of retaining the original proposal of ESZ around BNP. They had asked the state forest department to examine the original proposal and give a clear opinion on retaining the total area of 268.96 sq km as ESZ. This came after thousands of public objections were filed with the Centre and three Karnataka MPs supporting it.
However, the Chief Wildlife Warden, in his recommendation, has stated, “Since Bannerghatta is very close to Bengaluru, it is inevitable to maintain a minimum width of ESZ in private lands around the national park. Further, the Cabinet Sub-Committee, on February 10, 2017, had approved a draft proposal of 168.84 sq km which was approved by the 33rd ESZ Expert Committee on February 28, 2019. Since the decision was vetted by a Cabinet Sub-Committee, it requires no changes in the ESZ proposal.”
In his recommendation to the Additional Chief Secretary, Forest, Environment and Ecology on October 25, 2019, the Chief Wildlife Warden has further claimed that in 1991, in respect of Bannerghatta, the state government had issued a notification under Rule 3(2) of Karnataka Minor Minerals Concession Rule, 1960, declaring 1-km radius as safe zone around the national park. “In view of this, the 2018 ESZ proposal of 168.84 sqkm should be accepted and the final notification issued as early as possible,” he said.
Praveen Bhargav, Trustee, Wildlife First and former member, National Board of Wildlife pointed out, “The response of the State Government on reduction of ESZ area is completely untenable. If in 2016 the proposal to notify 268 sqkm was justified, leading to the first notification, how is it a problem now? Bangalore existed even then. Further, much of the area where the distance from the national park boundary was 4.5 km in 2016, is not towards Bangalore. It is towards South/South-East which are key corridors with Cauvery North Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu and Cauvery Sanctuary in Karnataka”
Despite the huge public protest with more than 80,000 citizens of Bengaluru sending their objections to the Centre on the 100 sqkm reduction in ESZ, the department has buckled under the pressure of the mining and real estate lobbies, says urban conservationist Vijay Nishanth. “Three MPs – P C Mohan, Rajeev Chandrashekar and Tejasvi Surya — have voiced their support for ESZ protection, but still this has happened. Now the only course left is the legal route to stop the final notification,” he said.
Farmers of Hungalwadi, Kaarjakanahalli and other villages who had sent in their objections to reduction in
ESZ said the forest department is not interested in saving forests. Srinivas B, a farmer, adds, “The reduction of ESZ is going to hit farmers badly. Most of our lands are up for sale or acquisition for apartment complexes. The real estate lobby is very strong and we will be forced to sell our farm fields. But where will the farmer go? Getting a job in Bengaluru is difficult for illiterate farmers. The ESZ will give protection to our lands. We will soon file petition on the reduction of the area.”