Grasslands in Western Ghats diverted for resort construction

The 120 room, five-star luxury resort is being built in Chikkamagalur district of Karnataka in association with international hotel chains

 
By Meghna Krishnadas
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Bababudan mountainsIn Chikkamagalur district of Karnataka, a high-end resort is coming up in the pristine shola-grassland ecosystem of the Bababudan mountains. This 120 room, five-star luxury resort is being built by Brigade Group of builders in the little-known village of Arasinaguppe. The venture is in association with international hotel chains, The Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts and Angsana Resorts and Spa, Singapore. Fourteen hectares of prime habitat has been diverted for the construction. The argument–grasslands are not forest, and the land is not under protected status.



Stylish green weekends

Such scenarios are becoming increasingly common across the country. The growing affluence of the Indian middle and upper-middle class has caused a spurt in market demand for luxury services. Tired city-dwellers look to be pampered in style, in exotic locations, away from the everyday bustle of their lives. With the fast surging market in green holidays, many high-end hotel enterprises are rushing to build comfortable getaways for the weary city-dweller, ready to shell out big bucks for a few days of looking-after. The major selling points for such resorts are their locations and services. Often, these resorts are built in remote areas. They provide opulent residence, in peaceful locations with clean air and the romance of the pristine. Many such resorts come up close to a national park or wildlife sanctuary where they can additionally avail of wildlife safaris.

The ecological implications of such ventures

In a liberal market economy, one would of course ask why, if there is demand, such ventures should not come up. To answer this we must look at the impacts of such undertakings beyond just their economic advantages, one of them being ecological impacts. Most people are unaware of the ecological implications of many such luxury facilities. Often, constructed in remote areas away from human concentration, such facilities invariably lie within or close to forests. The laws for protection of environment and forests prevent such constructions inside protected areas such as national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Protected areas, however, cover only about four per cent of India’s land. There are wild places that do not have a protected status and may be community lands. None the less, many such areas are of immense ecological importance, and may even lie within eco-sensitive zones of protected areas.

In the case of Brigade Resort in Chikkamagalur, it is located in the biodiversity-rich shola-grassland ecosystem, which is unique to the Western Ghats. The resort lies within 10 km of Bhadra Tiger Reserve, and is on land proposed to be declared a reserve forest. It links Bhadra with the adjacent reserve forests of Churchegudda and Yemmedoddi, and is part of a larger tiger landscape. This area is also an important watershed for the many streams that the villages, plantations, and other local residents downhill depend upon.

Arguments and ground realities

The argument of the construction group is that the building operations, being in the grasslands, are confined to “wastelands” and not destroying any forests. Additionally, the area is not protected and therefore does not require any forest clearance. In this backdrop, permissions were granted by the district collector for the diversion of fourteen hectares of gomal or traditional grazing lands for this commercial operation, itself a questionable move legally.

The construction of access roads to the resort has left a rubble trail along a once pristine evergreen shola forest. Excluded from the ambit of evaluation, the bulldozers have done their job well. Dug up earth, torn up trees and blown up boulders have left irreparable scars on a fragile ecosystem. This has been permitted in spite of the fact that sholas harbor some of the most endangered and highly endemic species of birds, reptiles and amphibians. The endangered White-bellied Shortwing, Black and Orange Flycatcher, and the endemic frog Nyctibatrachus dattatreyaensis, are found in this area. Tiger, leopard, sambhar, and muntjac deer, in addition to a variety of other smaller fauna, have also been sighted around the area.

Corridors and connectivity

The recent results of the all India tiger estimation exercise have revealed some interesting results. Notwithstanding numbers, the area occupied by tigers in different landscapes across India has diminished by about 20 per cent. In addition, nearly 30 per cent of tigers are estimated to be in areas outside tiger reserves. The newspapers have been loaded with articles of the implications of this finding for future conservation of tigers. The take-home message is–we need to protect corridors.

Need for regulation

This case illustrates the increasing diversion of land and resources for tourism, and calls for urgent regulation and management. Construction of such resorts is destroying ecologically valuable and biologically diverse habitats such as the shola-grasslands. They damage vegetation, lead to soil erosion, and hinder movement of wildlife. Tiger reserves and other parks are tiny islands embedded in a matrix of farms, fields, plantations, and villages. It is crucial now to plan land-use of areas falling between protected areas to make them permeable to dispersing wildlife. Given this knowledge, it is imperative to control the diversion of areas that act as vital corridors for dispersal of tiger and other species. In addition, special care should be accorded to areas of high biodiversity and endemism like shola-grasslands. Constructions like the Brigade Resorts in Chikkamagalur are avoidable, and should be evaluated as per their long-term ecological impacts on a landscape.

There is an on-going case in the Karnataka High Court to stop this construction. However, it seems unlikely that the ecological imperatives of the case will be appreciated.

Bababudan mountains

 

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  • Sir, Every businessman /

    Sir,
    Every businessman / enterprenaur also know the importance of Enviroment, greenary & his responsibility towards the mother Earth. They have no need to learn from some CORRUPT NGO's & more CORRUPT media people. I am not able to understand from this photographs where is the SHOLA FOREST? Have they really know the meaning of SHOLA FOREST or GRASS LAND?
    If Ms. Meghna is the writer of this colomn, I will guide them Pls. concentrate on reality, Don't create your focus on BLACK MAILING. If wirter wants to write many many true stories are available, Why r u not concentrating on real problems rathe than Corruption???

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Hello Anonymous or whoever,

    Hello Anonymous or whoever,

    I'm from this place, and i'm really concerned about the loss of pristine shola and grassland habitats to these money minded/environmentally irresponsible real-estate giants.

    I would like to emphasize that facts highlighted by the writer about the destruction of Arasinaguppe's grasslands are very much true.

    Harish

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Hello Mr. Anonymous,there is

    Hello Mr. Anonymous,there is difference in knowing abt environment and doing something abt it. the road construction and visibility of the project site from as far as 15 kms is evident for the permanent damage caused by this project. Why the writer has to blackmail someone? why the writer has to come to you for issues? cant you help self if you are so concerned! who are you alleging to be corrupt here?, can you give some evidences of such corruption so that you sound more genuine than just shoot in darkness. What's your profit in this project?

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Hello Mr.Anonymous, I am

    Hello Mr.Anonymous,

    I am basically from Chikmagalur and it is sad to see such a reply for a very good article.

    If you are so keen on commenting, please put some name for god sake, don't be scared. Mr.Anonymous, if you are free let me know, i can take you to the place where the resort is getting constructed after which you would take back your comments. It is coming up in a place which is very rich in eco system, flaura and fauna. Western ghats is one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world and infact in todays TOI it is shortlisted for World Heritage site by UNESCO. See below
    http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Scripting/ArticleWin.asp?From=Archive&Source=Page&Skin=TOINEW&BaseHref=TOIBG/2011/05/24&PageLabel=13&EntityId=Ar01304&ViewMode=HTML&GZ=T.
    I would think you would not be interested in knowing these things seeing your comments. Whatever the writer is put is the ground reality and true.

    Coming back to the article, thanks Meghna for putting up such a great article.

    Rajeev

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • hey idiotic anonymous go and

    hey idiotic anonymous go and first visit the place then write some rubbish..it is true already some shola grass lands have been destroyed in TN also..you anonymous doesnt have any brain..if not atleast have some skin deep sensitivity..shola grasses wont grow tall it is very short and thick in presence covering large area and main habitat of endangered thar..thanks for ur article madam..please continue your work because the forest dep is full of incompetent ,corrupt ,lazy officials exept a few..

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • part of a much larger malaise

    part of a much larger malaise - that of thinking only trees are "forests" and pretty much everything else is wasteland. Making a land use policy should not be too difficult. Implementing it probably impossible as everyone wants to rape the land...

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Mr. Anonymous, What business

    Mr. Anonymous,

    What business does a businessman / enterprenaur have in the pristine shola forests but to make profits of the land? If they were truly concerned about the environment and want to bring people there to educate them about the beautiful sholas, then why would they clear out 14 hactares of forests? What is the need to provide 5 star facilities in the midst of wilderness? The point is your so called 'environment friendly' businessmen dont care a damn about the environment!! And whoever you are, its very evident that you have no clue about what your talking about and have'nt once visited the place. Please gather your facts right before shooting back like this next time.

    Thank you for writing this. This is extremely disturbing news. The sholas in TN are also getting ruined in this manner...

    Regards,
    Nishita

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Dear all finish talk on

    Dear all
    finish talk on anonymous post.Its diverting.he or she done it.
    Whats our next step to guard shola grassland.
    Pls share ur ideas. Lets move together.
    Who is responsible authority?
    In which River Basin is this is?

    Can anyone share more information abt this issue pls.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • These points are for my dear

    These points are for my dear friend who is so concerned about the rich business men and their 5-star holidaying, rather than the damage that their activities are causing to the fragile ecosystem of the area:

    1. The Shola-grassland biome at the resort site shown in the photo clearly fits the definition of "deemed forest"" as per Supreme Courts
    1996 interim orders in WP 202. A report has already been filed by the Forest Advisory Committee of Government of India to the Central Empowered committee of the Supreme Court to this effect. Thus diversion of deemed forest land to non-forestry uses is illegal. Officials who have colluded in granting this lease are in clear violation of supreme court orders. It is also in contravention of state land grant rules.

    2. The area supports endangered wildlife species including reproducing tiger populations with at least one instance of a tiger cub being rescued, within a five km radius of the site..and several sightings of tigers even in broad day light by local planters.

    3. Government owned revenue land has been leased to this builder at an absurdly low lease rate of 1000 rupees per acre for 30 years.. and many more such builders are waiting in the wings to cut similar deals with compliant officials to occupy public lands.

    4. This particular builder/promoters family owns a huge coffee estate just below the government land they have got on lease, thus basically providing them a virtually free extension of their own estate at public cost (I dont know if this fact is known to my dear friend).

    5. The issue of connectivity is what makes this place that much more crucial for dispersing wildlife and this is what the author has set out to convey and bring it to public domain.

    But for fight put up by local conservation NGO groups, this diversion of public forest land to private profiteering would have gone on unchallenged and repeated by other similar operators. These NGOs deserve a pat on the back - not baseless allegations of corruption and malafide intentions.

    6. What everyone must do is to write to the CEC to make its recommendations on the FAC report to the Supreme Court to pass final orders...

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Very well written, keep

    Very well written, keep writing Meghna.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply