Wildlife conservationists have won a legal battle in stalling two projects that would have upset the ecologically fragile shola-grassland forests buffering the Bhadra Tiger Reserve in Chikmagalur district.
Organisations such as Bhadra Wildlife Conservation Trust, Nature Conservation Guild, WildCAT-C and WildCANE and local wildlife conservation NGOs in Chikmagalur, have been waging a legal battle against a proposed wind farm and a resort-cum-spa in the region.
The state government had, on April 17, 2003, leased 305.37acres to Karnataka Renewal Energy Development Ltd (KREDL) for sub-lease to BB Hills Wind Farm Development for a period of 30 years to set up 124 windmills on the ridges of the Bababudangiri Hills.
The government had also sanctioned a resort-cum-spa, promoted by Bangalore-based Brigade Hospitality Services, in collaboration with the Singapore-based Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts, in Arishinaguppe village, Chikmagalur.
According to Poornesha HC, conservation officer, Wildlife Conservation Society—India Programme, the proposals, if implemented, would have damaged the ecologically fragile ridge of the Bababudangiri hills. The proposed resort would have “intruded into the same habitat critical for tigers and other endangered rainforest fauna.”
The wildlife protection groups, guided by conservationist DV Girish had waged a protracted public campaign and legal battles in the courts. They had even approached the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court, which had conducted an inspection of the site and also sought an expert opinion from the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC).
Noted tiger ecologist Ullas Karanth, senior scientist of the Wildlife Conservation Society had conducted the review.
Karanth had said that all these areas should be notified as deemed forests so that these projects receive proper scrutiny under the Forest Conservation Act.“Until then, the operation of these projects must be stayed,” he said.
The FAC had submitted a report to the CEC regarding adverse impacts of these projects on the ecology and wildlife, stating that these areas are home to many endangered wild animals including tiger, leopard, wild dog, gaur, and sambar and also an ideal habitat for many bird species such as Ceylon frogmouth, great-pied hornbill and Malabar-pied hornbill and rufus-bellied hawk eagle. The committee felt such ill-planned projects would cause severe fragmentation of the habitat, besides leading to man–animal conflict.
Poornesha said that under advice from Forest Secretariat, the deputy commissioner, Chikmagalur, has ordered the cancellation of lease and withdrawn permission for construction.
The commissioner had also passed an order on November 8, withdrawing the permission given to Brigade Group for the construction of the resort and also acquired the leased land.
“The WildCAT-C had challenged the lease grant in the court of Chikmagalur, as the proposed land for the resort was in the midst of Shola forests and natural grasslands of Bababudangiri Hills. Taking suo-motu cognizance of this petition the court had cancelled the lease approval given to KREDL,” Poornesha said.
He said that in both the cases the areas that were leased out are clearly “deemed forests” as defined by the Supreme Court and by the FAC, hence the areas are required to be declared as Reserve Forests under section 4 of the Karnataka Forest Conservation Act. Therefore the utilisation of this land for non-forestry purposes was gross violation of the SC order.
Both the sites are just 8 km from the boundary of core critical tiger habitat notified by National Tiger Conservation Authority and within the eco-sensitive zone proposed for Bhadra Tiger Reserve. Poornesha said their struggle clearly demonstrates how local civil society groups can help recover tiger habitats from reckless development projects.