Illegal quarrying and poaching in the eco-sensitive buffer zone of the Bannerghatta National Park, just 20 km from Bengaluru, have been going on for years. In the meanwhile, both the state and central governments have seen change in power, but the environmental destruction has continued unabated.
Angered by recent instances of man-animal conflicts and blatant deforestation, ecologists and environmental activists have restarted pursuing the matter with renewed vigour.
Vijay Nishanth, popularly known as Bengaluru’s tree doctor, along with some members of Samartha Bharata, met Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan on Saturday seeking central government intervention on the issue. Individual communications have been sent to the PMO too.
An online petition, started in December 2014, has also gone viral with close to 7,000 signatures at the time of writing. Activists also seek Supreme Court intervention in re-instating the old (prior to June 2016) draft of eco-sensitive zones and protected areas.
Speaking to TNM, Vijay pointed out that the environmental destruction is on multiple levels, which have both immediate and long-term impact on the health of citizens.
“The forest officers are guilty of allowing vehicles 24x7 through an elephant corridor. Quarrying is being done in the forest core areas. A lot of animals have been killed and there is total destruction of habitat,” he said.
There are also talks about the state government trying to create additional lanes on the highway near the park without the mandatory approval of The National Wildlife Board.
“Local villagers are opposed to all of this. Recently people from Jalahalli registered a complaint and an FIR was registered. But within hours they were made to withdraw the complaint. All of this is happening due to political arm-twisting. Bannerghatta is the lung space for Bengaluru, it cannot be taken for a ride,” Vijay added.
A local resident and activist said, “The illegal quarrying makes life miserable for us. Crops are getting destroyed. People can’t sleep as the blasting goes on from evening to midnight. Dust from the blasts causes irritation and there is a spike in respiratory diseases, especially among children. Everything is happening under the watch of forest officers. The word National Park has become a joke. We complain of water shortage… there are so many streams inside the forest which later join the Cauvery, how will they flow if there are so much destruction?”
“Whom can you go to? All the parties have their own quarry here. Even Supreme Court orders are not being followed. The Forest Department keeps quiet, the Mines and Geology Department gives false clearances,” he alleged.
Sridhar Punnati, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), told TNM, “As I understand, the quarrying occurs a kilometre away from the forest area and not even in the buffer zone. It happens in the safe zone declared by the Department of Mines and Geology. Only they have the power to stop the mining.”
“DCF (Deputy Conservator of Forests) Javed told me that he has written multiple times to the Director of the Mines and Geology Department,” he added.
DCF Javed could not be reached for comment