#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

 

Ecologist Gadgil takes former ISRO chief Kasturirangan to cleaners


Monday, May 20, 2013, | Agency: DNA

Attacks report on Western Ghats as favouring rich and powerful illegalities.

Well-known ecologist Madhav Gadgil has now joined many environmentalists in attacking former Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) head K Kasturirangan‘s high-level working group (HLWG) report on the eco-sensitive Western Ghats, saying it endorses “exploitation.” The Padma Bhushan awardee architect of Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel (WGEEP) report, Gadgil, has torn into the report saying it favours the “rich and powerful of the country and of the globalised world.”

The former ISRO chief had been roped in by the Ministry for Environment and Forests (a move which amazed many given his zero experience in the field of environment and forest management) to head the 10-member HLWG. This panel was asked to advise the Centre on how to conserve the Western Ghats.

Comparing his own report with that of the HLWG, Gadgil says in his letter, “Based on extensive discussions and field visits, we had advocated a major role for grass-roots level inputs for safeguarding the ecologically-sensitive Western Ghats. You have rejected this framework and advocate a partitioning amongst roughly 1/3rd of what you term natural landscapes, to be safeguarded by guns and guards, and 2/3rd of so-called cultural landscapes, to be thrown open to development, such as what has spawned the Rs 35,000 crore illegal mining scam of Goa,” and adds “This amounts to attempts to maintain oases of diversity in a desert of ecological devastation. Ecology teaches us that such fragmentation would lead, sooner, rather than later, to the desert overwhelming the oases.”

Gadgil also reminds Kasturirangan of how the WGEEP had underlined the importance of habitat continuity maintenance, and of an ecologically and socially friendly matrix to ensure long-term conservation of biodiversity-rich areas. He further says, “Freshwater biodiversity is far more threatened than forest biodiversity and lies largely in what you term cultural landscapes.  Freshwater biodiversity is also vital to livelihoods and nutrition of large sections of our people. That is why we had provided a detailed case study of Lote Chemical Industry complex in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, where pollution exceeding all legal limits has devastated fisheries so that 20,000 people have been rendered jobless, while only 11,000 have obtained industrial employment. Yet the Government wants to set up further polluting industries in the same area, and has therefore deliberately suppressed its own Zonal Atlas for Siting of Industries.”

Gadgil is most critical of the way Kasturirangan’s report “shockingly dismisses our constitutionally guaranteed democratic devolution of decision-making powers, remarking that local communities can have no role in economic decisions,” and says, “Not surprisingly, your report completely glosses over the fact reported by us that while the Government takes absolutely no action against illegal pollution of Lote, it had invoked police powers to suppress perfectly legitimate and peaceful protests against pollution on as many as 180 out of 600 days in 2007-09.”

Pointing out how “India’s cultural landscape harbours many valuable elements of biodiversity,” he cites the instance of lion-tailed macaque, a monkey species confined to Western Ghats which thrives in the tea gardens. “I live in Pune and scattered in my locality are a many banyan, peepal and gular trees; trees that belong to genus Ficus, celebrated in modern ecology as a keystone resource that sustains a wide variety of other species,” Gadgil bringing the personal to the realm of the eco-social. He says, “Through the night I hear peacocks call and can see them dancing from my terrace,” and underlines, “It is our people, rooted in India’s strong cultural traditions of respect for nature, who have venerated and protected the sacred groves, the Ficus trees, the monkeys and the peafowl,” while bemoaning efforts to snuff it out. “This reminds me of Francis Buchanan, an avowed agent of British imperialism, who wrote in 1801 that India’s sacred groves were merely a contrivance to prevent the East India Company from claiming its rightful property.”

Gadgil ends his letter on a rather scathing note. “It would appear that we are now more British than the British and are asserting that a nature-friendly approach in the cultural landscape is merely a contrivance to prevent the rich and powerful of the country and of the globalized world from taking over all lands and waters to exploit and pollute as they wish while pursuing lawless, jobless economic growth. It is astonishing that your report strongly endorses such an approach. Reality is indeed stranger than we can suppose!”

 

#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

 

 

 

PRESS RELEASE- National Green Tribunal constitutes Fact Finding committee for diversion of forest land to nuclear projects


National Green Tribunal constitutes Fact Finding Committee to determine ecological and environmental consequences of massive diversion of ‘Amrit Mahal Kaval’ (forest) land to Defense, Nuclear and Industrial Projects in Chitradurga, Karnataka

In a significant direction, the South Zone Bench of the National Green Tribunal comprising of Justice Mr. M. Chockalingam (Judicial Member) and Prof. Dr. R. Nagendran (Expert Member) set up a two member committee of experts to visit Challakere Taluk in Chitradurga District of Karnataka and study the ecological and environmental consequences of diversion of 10,000 acres of ‘Amrit Mahal Kaval’ (traditional pasture grassland ecosystems and District Forests) for a variety of Defense, Nuclear, Industrial and Infrastructure projects. The expert members named by the Tribunal are Dr. S. Ravichandra Reddy, Retd. Professor of Ecology, Bangalore University and Dr. K. V. Anantharaman, Deputy Director, Scientist “C” (Retd.), Central Silk Board, Bangalore.

 

The decision to constitute the expert team was taken on 21st March 2013 based on applications filed by Leo F. Saldanha and Environment Support Group before the Tribunal during February 2013. The Applicants have consistently pointed out that the Karnataka Government comprehensively violated various forest, biodiversity and environmental protection laws while diverting about 10,000 acres of ‘Amrit Mahal Kaval’ for defense, industrial and infrastructure development projects. All this has also been done, without any Statutory Public Hearings and in total secrecy, thus comprehensively violating the Principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent that forms a major basis of various environmental and human rights protection laws. Further, it has been vehemently contended that this diversion is in absolute contradiction to various policies of the Central Government that seek to protect grasslands and livelihoods of pastoralists.

 

The Applications contended that all these gross illegalities have been committed despite the widely known fact that these ecologically sensitive grassland ecosystems serve as a special and critical habitat to a variety of flora and fauna; large herds of the highly threatened antelope species such as the Black Buck (Antilope cervicapra) graze these grasslands, and the ecosystem is a typical habitat for critically endangered birds such as Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps, only 250 individuals known to survive in all of South Asia) and Lesser Florican (Sypheotides indicus). These grasslands ecosystems have for centuries supported the rearing of drought tolerant locally bred variety of Amrit Mahal Cattle, besides providing a wide range of livelihoods opportunities for communities in about 60 directly impacted villages located around the Kaval. It is in consideration of all these values that the Karnataka Government had designated such Kaval land as District Forests per the Karnataka Forest Rules, 1969 and their protection was made sacrosanct by directions of the Karnataka High Court in 2002 and subsequent orders of the State.

 

The Challakere Kaval land ranges over 12,000 acres, and constitute the last remaining large contiguous semi-arid grassland in Karnataka. The State which boasted at the time of independence of possessing about 4,00,000 acres of ‘Kaval’ grasslands, is now, per the Forest Department submissions to the Supreme Court, left with only about 45,000 acres of such habitat. Producing incontrovertible evidence before the Tribunal, the Applicants demonstrated that the beneficiaries of the illegal transfer of such ecologically precious grassland/forest land include Defense Research Development Organisation (for drone testing and development), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (uranium enrichment facility), Indian Institute of Science (Synchroton), Indian Space Research Organisation (satellite centre), Sagitaur Pvt. Ltd. (Solar Farm), Karnataka Housing Board (township), and Karnataka Small Scale Industries Association and Karnataka Udyog Mitra (for a range of private industrial and ancillary units related to the defense sector) – all of which are projects with significant or massive environmental and social impacts. All of these proponents have been provided such ecologically precious land at a pittance of a cost: Rs. 30-35,000/acre.

 

The Applicants have also produced evidence that despite statutory notices of violation of environmental laws from Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, issued about two years ago, none of the project proponents have complied with any of the mandatory environmental and forest clearance norms and standards. Instead, a variety of project activities have commenced including the building of a 30 kms long high wall by DRDO in comprehensive violation of the Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2006 which categorically bars commencement of any project activity until environmental and forest clearances have been granted. Such developments have blocked local pastoralists’ access to their pasture land and to lakes and streams which are critical drinking water sources for cattle. This is particularly worrying given the long periods of drought affecting the region causing extensive distress to impacted families. Besides, the massive wall has seriously constrained the movement of the highly endangered Black Buck, and could potentially isolate the population, thus weakening its genetic vitality. In addition, DRDO is on record to have conducted various bombing sorties in the grasslands, none of which appear to have been with any consent from civil and military authorities.

 

The Applications filed in February 2013 have prayed for interim relief of stay on ongoing illegal activities and for allowing access to grazing pastures for local pastoralists. In consideration of this aspect the Tribunal has repeatedly sought the response of the Karnataka Government and Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests, including even directing Karnataka’s Principal Secretary for the Environment Department to appear in person on 13th March 2013. Yet, no response has been forthcoming. Taking this situation into account, the 21st March order observes that “(i)n the considered opinion of the Tribunal, the counter of the respondents have to be taken into consideration before deciding the question whether to grant an order of interim relief or not and hence, (the case hearing) has got to be adjourned granting time till 15.04.2013 to file their counter. It is made clear that if the counter is not filed by any of the respondents, it will be taken that they have no counter to offer.”

 

The Applications and related documents are accessible on the ESG website at: www.esgindia.org and a copy of the 21st March 2013 order of the Tribunal is enclosed.

 

Leo F. Saldanha

Applicant in 6/2013 as Party in Person

leo@esgindia.org

Bhargavi S. Rao

Coordinator (Education)

bhargavi@esgindia.org

Arthur Pereira

Trustee representing ESG in Application 12/2013

arthurjpereira@gmail.com

Environment Support Group

An overview of the allocation of lands and the purpose for which Challakere’s ‘Amrit Mahal Kaval’ lands are diverted

Sl. No.

Organisation

Village Name

Sy. No.

Extent of land in acres

Purpose

A

B

C

D

E

F

1

Defence Research Development Organisation

Varavu Kaval and Khudapura

343, 47

4000 and 290 respectively (total 4290)

Advanced R&D complex, a 3.5 km runway and test centre for long-endurance ( 48-72 hours) UAVs and UCAVs

2

Indian Institute of Science

Khudapura

47

1500

Synchrotron, Energy Research Centre and Advanced Aerospace Research Centre

3

Bhabha Atomic Research Centre

Ullarti Kaval and Khudapura

1, 47

1410 and 400 respectively (toatel 1810)

Special Material Enrichment Facility (Uranium)

4

Indian Space Research Organisation

Ullarti Kaval and Khudapura

1, 47

473 and 100 respectively (total 573)

Spacecraft Technologies

5

Karnataka Small Scale Industries Development Corporation

Ullarti Kaval and Khudapura

1, 47

250 and 50 respectively (total 300)

Various industrial ancillary units

6

Sagitaur Ventures India Pvt. Ltd.

Khudapura

N.A.

1250

Integrated Solar Park Development along with Grid Connected 25 MW Solar PV Power Project

7

Karnataka Housing Board

Khudapura

47

50

Developing Housing Layout and sale of constructed villas

Total

9323 confirmed

 

-- 
Environmental, Social Justice and Governance Initiatives
Environment Support Group - Trust
1572, 36th Cross, Ring Road
Banashankari II Stage
Bangalore 560070. INDIA
Tel: 91-80-26713559~61
Voice/Fax: 91-80-26713316
Web: www.esgindia.org
Email: esg@esgindia.org

 

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