Land of contention

The Karnataka government's plan for a biotech park on UAS campus runs into rough weather

By Keya Acharya
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

a university of Agricultural Sciences (uas)-owned 40.46 hectare (ha) prime land at Bangalore has stirred dust. The uas contends that the land is plant-rich and is reluctant to hand it over to the state government. But the government is hell bent on using the land as a 'Biotech Corridor' (read biotech park) to encourage private ventures as per its Millinneum Biotech Policy. It is showing an unusual haste in selling off the 40.46 ha land at Rs 20 lakh per ha while ignoring two other alternative sites that have been offered by the uas at the prevailing market rate of Rs 2.5 crore per ha.

The controversy assumed gravity when on September 27, 2001, the government reiterated its choice of the land with the help of the police force. Imposing prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code which Vice Chancellor A M Krishnappa said he was not informed of in advance, the police accompanied the Karnataka Land Army (kla) into the University premises with bulldozers. Protesting students were lathicharged and hostels, libraries and faculty chambers broken into. Students and professors were indiscriminately beaten up. The University has sent in a complaint of police abuse to the National Human Rights Commission.

During the September 27 melee many trees in the faculty were bulldozed by kla. uas associations and the media have vociferously criticised the kla action. Opposition party leaders have also seized the opportunity. Factions of the Janata Dal have accused the state government of falling prey to private commercial and real estate interests in prime land. Even Minister of State for Higher Education G Parmeshwar publicly flayed the government stand on the land. On October 1, chief minister S M Krishna back tracked from the project. But he refused to probe the use of police force in the uas faculty.

However, the row over the land has not subsided yet. On the one hand, Kiran Mazumdar, chairperson of Karnataka's Biotech Vision Group continues to publicly state that industry's interests remain on the 40.46 ha land. On the other hand, the University's Board of Regents convening have unanimously stuck to their guns, requesting the government to withdraw its police fir lodged against uas faculty and staff.

The controversy has raised a myriad questions. Why does the state government need 40.46 ha prime property to build a Biotech park which, going by similar it precedents, uses approximately 12.14 ha land only? Why is it overriding less prime sites elsewhere and has fixed a ridiculously low sale-price for the 40.46 ha land? Is the whole exercise to satisfy the private real-estate interests? The uas lands form a rich ecological landmark for the city. The Birdwatchers' Field Club of Bangalore has recorded lists of the area housing 530 plant species including sandalwood, six rare species, four endemic and one endangered (Albizzia odorassitimus). At least 24 of the 46 medicinal species have high medicinal value. There are also 81 butterfly species, 165 birds and 13 mammal species. Environmentalists believe that this is one of Bangalore's now-rare remaining green lung-spaces. So does it make sense to use it for constructions when alternative space is available?

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