Here’s the heartening report from Leo Saldanha of ESG:
This morning, Mr. Appu Rao, IFS, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Bangalore (Urban), Mr. Venkatesh, KFS, Asst. Conservator of Forests, Bangalore South Division, Mr. Nagaraj, KFS, Range Forest Officer (Kaggalipura Division) and various other foresters of the Karnataka Forest Department met with some of us atop the hill in Turahalli. Present amongst us were Venkatesh (Venky/NEFA), Ganguly (GETHNA), Vijay and Dimple (Architects), the Belurs, and some others whose names I do not remember, and my little daughter and myself. Deepak Arya is down with viral flu and thus could not make it.
First and foremost, what was pleasantly surprising was that the illegal structure of the temple which had come up two weeks ago, is completely gone. GONE! The campaign, therefore, and all the other efforts, including the formal complaint and the extensive media support, has worked. This demonstrates once more the importance and the immense capabilities of public and collective action to protect our forests.
This morning various decisions were taken by the Forest Department in discussion with us.
1) On the 13th of October, Saturday, at 10 am, a meeting will be held at Turahalli to constitute an Urban Forest Committee per the applicable rules. A formal intimation will be conveyed by the Department in the days to come. It is important that those of you who are keen to participate in the formulation of this committee, and also those who have the specific capacities to advise the committee, should step up now. The best way to do that would be to email Deepak Arya (email@example.com), so we have an approximate count of those who are willing to provide time, skill and other resources in the workings of this committee.
2) The department is absolutely keen to work with local and wider communities to ensure Turahalli remains in its natural state. This requires a lot of contribution in time, effort and also resources from the wide citizenry, corporates, et al. There is a critical need to survey the forest and remove all encroachments (mostly by the wealthy and politically influential). The Department clarified that all the forest land encroached by BDA (approx. 60 acres) has been recovered and indigenous species of trees have been planted. There are some parcels of land still under encroachment, and that legal proceedings are underway to recover the forest land. The current extent of Turahalli minor forest is about 600 acres (591 acres to be precise). However, the Department is keen to undertake a survey as per the original forest maps, and all support people with skills can render is welcomed. The overall plan is to demarcate the legal limits of the forest, and fence it (not with walls) so that there will not be any more scope for encroachment and pollution (yes garbage is being dumped here on the sly).
3) The long term proposal is to ensure Turahalli becomes a space for quiet reflection, environmental education, non-polluting, non-commercial adventure activities (like rock climbing), and any activity that is respectful of the forest space. The idea of turning it into a recreational tree park is to be actively discouraged, and quickly rejected.
4) The Department will ensure that local schools and colleges will be involved in a massive tree/bush planting drive to improve the biodiversity value of this space. Also, there is a plan to turn this space into a massive watershed. Students contributing their time for this labour intensive activities, will find it deeply educative and healthy. But this activity will require support of the wider public as well.
5) The Department is also very keen that with active involvement of local communities and others, Turahalli Minor, Turahalli State Forest, BM Kaval Forest and its link to the Bannerghatta Forest could be protected from the worst of urbanisation: pollution and encroachment. With massive public pressure it is possible to get this area declared as protected wildlife corridor – which it is in any case now. This has resulted in the road kills of two leopards last year on the BMIC road (which has broken the corridor), has affected herbivore population, increased threats of human-wildlife conflict, and there is now an active possibility of pollution threatening the health of wildlife population.
6) All this would have to be done by involving shepherds, local farmers and others who have traditionally depended on this forest spaces for their livelihoods, and now being ruthlessly dislocated by the urban sprawl. Yes there is a large number of them, and we need to find a balance of finding spaces for grazing and ensuring forest regeneration is not affected. The Forest Right Act applies.
On the 13th October, all these items will be discussed in thorough detail for follow up action in the short and long terms.
Environmental, Social Justice and Governance Initiatives
Environment Support Group – Trust
1572, 36th Cross, Ring Road
Banashankari II Stage
Bangalore 560070. INDIA