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Govt cancels lease granted to wind energy firm at BB Hills

Putting an end to a decade-old dispute, the Deputy Commissioner of Chikmagalur has withdrawn the lease granted to a Chennai-based power generating company, M/s B B Hills Wind Farm Development Private Limited, at the ecologically sensitive Bababudangiri Hills.

In a significant effort in saving the Western Ghats, the Deputy Commissioner withdrew the order granting the lease for 305.37 acres of land to the Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Limited (KREDL) for a period of 30 years to set up 124 windmills.

During a meeting on March 24, 2011, headed by Principal Secretary (Forests, Ecology and Environment), it was recommended that the lease be cancelled to save the ecologically sensitive and significant Bababudangiri. Based on the recommendation, the Deputy Commissioner, on September 6 this year, cancelled the lease.

The government, through orders (M4 LND CR 251:2001-02), dated June 21, 2002, June 25, 2003 and April 17, 2003, had leased out the land in various survey numbers of ID Peeta, Muttinapura, SD Peeta, Kolagaame and other villages, to KREDL.

The KREDL had further sub-leased the land to the private company.

The government order met with strong objections from wildlife conservationists Manish Kumar, Sridev Hulikere and others. They had even challenged the land grant in the local court, as it contained shola forests and natural grasslands in the Western Ghats.

Citing evidence that the region hosted rare animals like tiger, gaur, sambar, wild dog and other endangered species, the wildlife activists said the huge wind turbines, if installed, would affect their movement.

Pointing out that the area was home to bird species, including the Ceylon frogmouth, great pied and Malabar pied hornbill, rufous-bellied hawk eagle, broad-tailed grass warbler and the rufous-bellied shortwing, D V Girish, a wildlife activist, says: “It is scientifically proved that windmills located in migratory corridors of birds are turning a graveyard for thousands of birds.”

Girish said the leased area was also identified as shola forest and was in the process of being declared a reserved forest under Section 4 of the Karnataka Forest Act, 1963. “Hence, the lease was in clear violation of Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980,” he said.

The experts also submitted that since the land also had natural forests, granting of the lease was in contempt of the Supreme Court order in WP 202/1996.

Pointing out that the apex court had on December 12, 1996, ordered that no land containing forests should be granted for non-forestry activities without the permission of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, wildlife enthusiasts said the location of the windmills was also within the eco-sensitive zone of the Bhadra Tiger Reserve.
Considering all these violations and in the interest of wildlife, the Deputy Commissioner, Chikmagalur, cancelled the lease. Wildlife enthusiasts across the State have hailed it as a landmark decision in protecting forests and wildlife.