#India- Grassland fodder for development in Karnataka #WTFnews


Karnataka’s cattle farmers protest the allotment of 12,000 acres of traditional grazing land for defence, nuclear and other projects. Imran Khan reports

Imran Khan

June 28, 2013

Lifeline The Amrit Mahal Kavals are critical to the livelihood of the local pastoral communityLifeline The Amrit Mahal Kavals are critical to the livelihood of the local pastoral community Photo: Vivek Muthuramalingam

Since the time of our forefathers, our cattle have been  in these grasslands. But now a high wall prevents us from going there,” laments Ranganna, a 58-year-old cattle farmer in south . “Where do they expect us to go in search of fodder?”

Ranganna belongs to one of the nearly 40,000 families from 73 villages in  district (250 km from state capital Bengaluru) that rear livestock for a living. About 12,000 acres of bio-diverse grassland in Challakere taluka of this district has been diverted to make way for a host of defence, , industrial and .

Known for supporting the Amrit Mahal breed of hardy indigenous cattle, these grasslands — called the Amrit Mahal Kavals — have traditionally served as common grazing land for the local pastoral community.

According to the Karnataka Forest Rules, 1969, this grassland ecosystem is designated as ‘forest’. Yet, over a period of three years since 2008, the lands were handed over to the Defence Research and Development Organisation () for a project to build and test unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre () for an uranium enrichment facility, the Indian Institute of Science (IISC) to host a synchrotron (for advanced scientific research), the Indian Space Research Organisation () for a satellite centre, besides other industrial and infrastructure projects. Many small and ancillary industrial units linked to the defence production sector are also expected to come up in the region. Under threat is the livelihood system of the local pastoral community that breeds a variety of livestock in this arid region as its primary economic activity.

According to the state animal husbandry department, Chitradurga district supports 3.16 lakh non-descriptive cattle, 24,000 crossbred cattle, 3.68 lakh goats and 9.31 lakh sheep. The Amrit Mahal Kavals form a support system for this intense practice of animal husbandry and the Challakere Kavals are critical to the livelihood of people across more than 70 villages. Ecologists claim the Amrit Mahal Kavals are the largest contiguous stretch of arid grasslands still existing in Karnataka, and perhaps, all of south India.

Wildlife surveys indicate that the Challakere Kavals are a biodiversity hot spot and habitat of the highly threatened Blackbuck. Some recent records suggest that the critically endangered  is also found in this area.

Against the common perception that villagers are a threat to wildlife, the grazing practices here help prevent the land from being excessively overgrown with grass, creating niches where the wild species can forage for food.

However, these concerns seem to have been set aside when the Karnataka government gave away the ecologically precious land to the projects at a pittance — Rs 30,000-Rs 35,000 per acre. All the projects are expected to have significant environmental and social impact. Elected representatives, institutions of local governance and the residents of the area were kept completely in the dark when the land transfer took place. In fact, the locals came to know of this only when the organisations to which land had been allotted began building boundary walls.

According to Bengaluru-based ngo Environment Support Group (), despite statutory notices from the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board against violation of environmental laws, issued over two years ago, not one of the project proponents has complied with any of the mandatory environmental and forest clearance norms and standards. The DRDO, for instance, has built a 28-km wall in violation of the Environment Impact Assessment Notification of 2006, and has even tested its weaponised drones without any civilian or military clearances.

According to documents accessed by TEHELKA, BARC is conducting advanced research on the nuclear fuel cycle, for developing nuclear fission reactors, atomic energy applications in agriculture and nuclear medicine. Meanwhile, DRDO is building a runway for testing the indigenous drones Lakshya and Nishant.

The DRDO project was initially planned to come up 40 km away in a neighbouring taluka. In 2007, however, the then MP from Chitradurga constituency, NY Hanumanthappa, wrote to Defence Minister AK Antony asking for the project to be shifted to its present location in Challakere. In his letter, Hanumanthappa assured the minister that at the new location there was “no question of acquisition of land and payment of compensation”.

The locals are agitated because no one sought their views on these decisions that were to affect their lives so significantly. “How is it reasonable for the government to allot the land to various agencies without involving its real custodians?” asks Karianna, a local villager and Chitradurga district president of the All India Kisan Sabha (), a peasants’ organisation affiliated with the CPM.

That the locals have been “custodians” of the Amrit Mahal Kaval lands is also acknowledged in a June 2011 report of the iisc, A Precious Heritage: Rapid Bio-diversity of the Khudapura Campus. According to the report, “The land for these campuses has recently been taken over from the local people, for whom this was a grazing commons, and the healthy state of the ecosystem shows that the local grazers and farmers have been wise custodians of this landscape.”

Today, a huge concrete wall prevents these “custodians” from accessing their pastoral lands. Activists allege that by allowing this 28-km wall to come up, the government has undermined the locals’ right to life, given their dependence on the grazing commons. The region has also been severely hit by repeated droughts that have further worsened the condition of the local pastoral community.

Even as pastoral activities are becoming less viable, the other major source of livelihood — blanket weaving — is also under threat. Challakere is famous for the kambali (woollen blankets) woven by the local Kuruba community. “The kambali industry has already been hit due to dwindling supplies of wool. Loss of grazing land is making it worse,” says R Girish of the Woollen Handloom Weavers Production and Sales Cooperative Society in Doddalluthi village.

Unable to maintain their livestock, people are resorting to distress sales and migrating to other places. TEHELKA visited a local cattle fair and found that cattle were being sold to butchers at throwaway prices. “We are selling the cattle as fodder has become unaffordable,” says Kenchalingappa, a 48-year-old cattle herder. “We may have to move from here and seek work as labourers in Bengaluru.”

The AIKS mobilised the local villagers to petition the Karnataka High Court against the transfer of their grazing land. The ESG, too, has raised the matter of environmental violations and ecological impact with the South Zone Bench of the National Green Tribunal in Chennai. Following ESG’s petition, the tribunal has formed a two-member expert committee to hold public consultations and review the environmental and ecological consequences of the diversion of land to the projects. The tribunal is expected to arrive at a decision in July, based on the committee’s report.

“People in these areas have been living in sub-standard conditions. There are no proper schools and no toilets,” says HS Jagadeesh, IISC’s special officer for the Challakere project. “With the coming up of the projects, the quality of life in general will improve. There will be ample employment opportunities. Also, a scientific city will emerge in a backward district.”

At its core, the conflict is between the promise of a technologically advanced society pitted against the traditional livelihoods of pastoral communities. There is also the question of whether the wild species on the verge of extinction, such as the Great Indian Bustard, can survive the drone testing, the nuclear fuel enrichment facilities, and the intense urbanisation and industrialisation that will follow

Jagadeesh says, “Development will come at some cost.” However, the people of Challakere ask why they should be the ones to pay the price.

imran@tehelka.com

 

#India – Security projects ‘violate’ green laws as they start work in Karnataka


Agencies revealed the information about the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and the Defence Research and Development Organisation in the National Green Tribunal.

31 March 2013
www.dailymail.co.uk

 

Security projects ‘violate’ green laws as they start work in Karnataka

By Dinesh C Sharma UPDATED: 01:25 GMT, 30 March 2013

 

In the name of national security, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) have ‘violated’ environmental laws by starting construction work on strategic projects in an ecologically sensitive zone in Karnataka, an environmental lobby group has claimed. 

The BARC project is aimed at upgrading a classified ‘technology demonstration’ project involving the nuclear fuel cycle for both civilian and military use. 

The facility is designed to meet “future requirements of upgraded fuel for power sector as well as for other strategic purposes”, according to the nuke agency. 

The ecologically sensitive zone in Karnataka

The ecologically sensitive zone in Karnataka

The DRDO project will develop an aeronautical test range with dedicated airspace for testing of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). 

Norms violated

No environmental and forest clearances have been granted for the two projects which are coming up in Challakere taluk of Chitradurga district. 

The area in which the two projects are coming up has been classified as grasslands and district forests. 

WHATS IN THE PIPELINE

The projects are part of a cluster of scientific projects coming up in the region. Together these projects will need around 10,000 acres of land.

The two agencies have admitted that they have already spent close to Rs 100 crore on the initial developmental work on the projects in the past two years.

BARC said: “Major construction activities will be carried out only after necessary clearance from the ministry of environment and forests and the Karnataka Pollution Control Board”. 

On the other hand, DRDO claimed that no clearance is required as the test range is not a commercial airstrip and will not have a bunkering facility.

The agencies have been forced to reveal the information about the projects in the National Green Tribunal, where the projects have been challenged by Bangalore-based Environment Support Group. 

The tribunal has not stayed work on the projects but has appointed a two-member committee to inspect the sites. “The experts will make an inspection of the land in question as also the ecological and environmental status and also the activities undertaken by the proponent and file a report, which would assist the tribunal to decide on the controversy”, the order said. 

“Nuclear and defence agencies are invoking national security to cover up violation of environmental laws. None of the project proponents have complied with any of the mandatory environmental and forest clearance norms and standards”, Leo Saldanha, petitioner in the case, said. 

He said the ecologically precious land had been given to different agencies at a cheap price of Rs 30,000 to Rs 35,000 per acre.

High value

Besides DRDO and BARC, other projects coming up in the cluster include a new campus of the Indian Institute of Science and the satellite centre of the Indian Space Research Organisation

The land allocated for the projects is the last remaining contiguous area of semi-arid grasslands ecosystem traditionally known as ‘Amrit Mahal Kaval’. 

It is critical to a variety of flora and fauna including the threatened antelope species, critically endangered birds like Great Indian Bustard and Lesser Florican. In addition, inhabitants from 60 villages in the vicinity depend on the grasslands for their livelihood. The Kaval area had been designated as ‘district forests’ for protection under the Karnataka Forest Rules, 1969. 

CONTESTED AREA

 

 

 

Justice Katju bats for sacked DRDO scientist


New Delhi, March 7, 2013

Special Correspondent, The Hindu

Former employee of DRDO Aijaz Ahmed Mirza who was arrested on terror charges addressing a media conference in Bangalore. File photo

The Hindu Photo Library Former employee of DRDO Aijaz Ahmed Mirza who was arrested on terror charges addressing a media conference in Bangalore. File photo

The PCI chief wrote to Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Karnataka Chief Minister Jagdish Shettar, regarding the sacked DRDO scientist who was released as NIA failed to file chargesheet against him

Press Council of India Chairperson Markandey Katju has asked Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Karnataka Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar to look into the case of Aijaz Ahmed Mirza, who was sacked as DRDO scientist after having been implicated in a bomb blast case.

In his letter to them, Justice Katju said media reports indicated that no evidence had been found against Mr. Mirza by the National Investigation Agency, which also refused to file a charge sheet against him.

If no evidence is found, “he should be reinstated forthwith in the post he was holding before he was sacked.”

Justice Katju also asked that adequate compensation be paid, and an open apology be tendered by the Central/State government to Mr. Mirza for the ‘torture and indignities in jail’ he suffered.

The letter comes a day after Justice Katju’s appeal to the media to exercise restraint in their coverage of blasts, and to refrain from falsely implicating Muslims even before investigations are complete.

 

#Bangalore -DRDO sacks youth who got bail in terror module case


TNN | Mar 4, 2013, 06.11 AM IST

BANGALORE: Ejaz Ahmed Mirza, 25, who has been granted bail in the Bangalore terror module case, has been terminated from the Defence Research Development Organization where he worked as a junior research fellow.

Ejaz, who is likely to walk out of the Parappana Agrahara Central Jail on Monday morning, was among the 15 youths held by the Bangalore police in August-November 2012 for suspected terror activities. However, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over the probe and charged only 11 of the 15 arrested. While two of the arrested youths were discharged, Ejaz was granted bail on Thursday.

Ejaz’s father, Rauf Abdul Mirza, confirmed the DRDO order and said he will be reaching Bangalore on Monday morning. “Yes, we received a termination letter from the DRDO dated February 12. However, my current priority is to get my son out on bail and further action will be decided once he is back. We have been told that he will be able to get back to DRDO and we hope it will be possible,” he said.

A DRDO spokesperson said: “He was not a DRDO employee, but was just a junior research fellow with one of the labs, and was taken in early 2012. It is a fellowship programme, and fellows are normally taken for a particular study, which is ongoing and they are encouraged to enroll for PhD etc, while they gain research experience with our labs. This is purely a temporary assignment.

“Based on the performance of a fellow, or when a particular study is completed, his fellowship can be terminated at any point of time by the local lab director. Or, he could get upgraded to a senior research fellow, but even that is not permanent employment with DRDO. The decision on a fellow is left purely to the lab director, and the ministry of defence and DRDO headquarters have no role at all,” the spokesperson added.

Bangalore Court grants bail to DRDO scientist in terror case #goodnews


By Newzfirst Correspondent2/28/13

Bangalore – The National Investigation Agency (NIA) special court on Thursday ordered the release of another youth who was arrested last year on terror related charges, after granting him statutory bail for failure to file a charge-sheet within 180 days of arrest.

The bail application moved by the defence counsel of Aejaz Ahmed Mirza on Wednesday contended that the investigating agency failed to file the charge-sheet within the stipulated time of 180 days since his arrest.

Aejaz Ahmed Mirza – a DRDO scientist – was among the 15 youths arrested last year by Central Crime Branch (CCB) Bangalore sleuths, from different parts of Karnataka and Hyderabad, for allegedly plotting to kill prominent personalities and having links with banned terror outfits.

Speaking to Newzfirst, Akmal Razvi, lawyer and secretary of Association for Protection of Civil Rights said, “The NIA counsel said that they have some evidence, but no prosecutable evidence. So he has been released on statutory bail.”

Earlier this week, two more persons – who were accused in the same case – were released after the NIA dropped all charges against them.

In its charge-sheet submitted on 20 February 2013, the NIA had filed charges against 11 of the 15 arrested youths while dropping charges against two – Muthi-ur-Rahman Siddiqui and Yusuf Nalband – and asking more time for interrogating the other two – Aejaz Ahmed Mirza and Syed Tanzeem.

 

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