Construction undertaken by science and defence research institutes allotted land in Amrit Mahal Kaval has affected biodiversity, water availability and village residents dependent on the grasslands for living
The Chennai bench of the National Green Tribunal has stayed development activities on the last remaining contiguous grasslands of Karnataka—the Amrit Mahal Kaval. Over 4,000 hectares of the traditional grazing land in Challakere taluk has been diverted for development; it has been allotted in parts to science and defence research institutes, including the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO), the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). The tribunal bench ordered a status quo on all activities proposed by these institutes.
The green bench has also told the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board to review over the next fortnight any pending applications for clearances sought from project proponents.
The tribunal order followed a hearing on August 21 and submission of a report by a two-member fact finding committee appointed by the tribunal on July 26. The committee comprised ecologist S Ravichandra Reddy and K V Anantharaman, retired scientist from Central Silk Board.
The complaint in the case was filed by Bengaluru-based charitable trust, Environment Support Group (ESG), in February this year. It pointed out that various organizations have commenced project activities like construction in the ecologically sensitive Amrit Mahal Kaval grasslands. ESG had alleged irregularities in the diversion of the grazing land, originally used for grazing the drought-tolerant Amrit Mahal breed of cattle owned by the maharajas of Mysore, in violation of environmental laws.
Villages' access blocked
During visits to affected villages, the two-member committee found that residents had the same grievances—the Kaval is their main source for firewood, medicinal plants, fruits, palm leaves, sand, mud and other construction material. The land was also being used for grazing sheep and cattle until recently when villagers were denied access for grazing when boundary walls were erected. Whenever they enter the Kaval, they are arrested, beaten and threatened by security guards; police cases have also been registered.
The Kaval also has water sources, which have become inaccessible after construction of boundary walls. A good portion of the Ullarti tank is now under the control of ISRO and a boundary wall is being constructed which is blocking the flow of catchment water into the tank. Similarly, bore wells sunk by BARC and ISRO in their allotted area has caused water shortages in the villages. Biodiversity in the Kaval has depleted considerably.
Another concern of the village residents, as given in the report, is that after the construction of boundary wall, worship places/temples like Boredevaragudi (in KSSIDC land), Hiriyara Habba spot and Ajjayanagudi (in IISc land) are not be accessible for performing the traditional rituals every year.
The committee observed that Amrit Mahal Kaval is an undulating land covered with scrub and thorny bushes with isolated pockets of sheet rocks and boulders. Vast stretches of the land is covered by variety of grass and shrubs. Soil of the land ranges from gravelly red to black and from loam to sandy type.
The land was transferred from different kings to the department of agriculture in 1923; in 1945, the land was given to the department of animal husbandry and veterinary sciences. Records available with the forest department show it was never given custody of Amrit Mahal Kaval.
The committee said that research organisations have given written assurances to the committee that they would continue to allow grazing by livestock until complete establishment and also supply fodder to the villages. Besides, the state’s chief secretary has assured the committee members that the remaining Kaval land at Challakere will not be diverted and will be maintained in its natural condition for the benefit of the villages.
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