The attempts to construct a link road through the University of Agricultural Sciences’ Gandhi Krishi Vignana Kendra (GKVK) campus has stirred up a fierce battle, between BBMP and a motley group of locals, environmentalists and former Vice Chancellors of the University of Agricultural Sciences.
In June 2007, BBMP proposed a 9 km long (100 feet in width) road, to connect the Yeshwantpur-Yelahanka expressway to Bellary Road (NH 7). The link road will begin at the main entrance to the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) at Bellary Road, cut through prime forestland and end at the Yeshwantpur-Yelahanka Expressway.
BBMP claims the road will provide better connectivity to the international airport from Yelahanka. The project has however, received flak for the damage it will cause to the campus biodiversity and the disruption of the research activities of the various institutions it houses.
The UAS was set up in 1963 for the purpose of conducting research pertaining to various aspects of Indian agriculture, with the objective of increasing food production in the country. In 1968, the Agriculture and Forest Department provided the University with the 667 acres of forestland that include Sandalwood trees, for setting up the GKVK campus.
After a series of letters, petitions and protests, seven former Vice Chancellors have filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the link road in the Karnataka High Court on September 16th 2009.
An appeal was filed on September 5th 2009 with the Director General of Forests P G Dilip Kumar at the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), asking for intervention from New Delhi.
Consequently, the Conservator of Forests, Bangalore Urban Circle H P Prakash, carried out a survey of the campus land and found that 600 trees had already been felled. Some of them are eucalyptus trees. The forest department directed the BBMP to stop work until the MoEF could fully verify the facts of the case.
However, at a preliminary hearing on 17th September, the petitioners produced photographs that showed that despite directives to the contrary BBMP had continued construction work, apparently in the evening of September 16th 2009.
The arguments of the PIL will be heard on September 23rd 2009. Until then the fate of another green space hangs in the balance.
The campus has around 600 different species of plants and trees, numerous agricultural and biotechnology research plots, herbal gardens and rare medicinal plants. In addition to this, the campus is an ornithological delight, home to many species of birds. The trees on campus are crucial for field observations like insect pollination when in full bloom, for studies on silviculture and forestry.
Some of the mature trees are subject to long term studies that last several years. Apart from UAS, GKVK also provides field facilities for premier institutions like the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) and the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR).
With so much at stake, the staff and students of the GKVK campus were alarmed at the prospect of a road carrying airport traffic through its research sites.
When BBMP’s then commissioner Dr S Subramanya, invited tenders for the construction work in February 2009, the then Registrar Dr D Raju of UAS approached Governor Rameshwar Thakur’s Secretariat to intervene. In a board meeting on May 29th 2009, the Board of Regents (responsible for the university’s governance) objected to BBMP’s actions, as it would affect the ‘academic serenity and precious biodiversity and research experimentation and development activities in the campus’.
In April 2009, the board approached the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) with a proposal to declare the campus a Biodiversity Heritage Site. So far NBA has not gotten back to the board. And in June 2009, seven former Vice Chancellors passed a resolution declaring the UAS land ‘sacred in the name of the farmers of Karnataka’.
However, in a curious twist of fate, Subramanya was transferred from the post of Commissioner of BBMP in June this year, to the post of Principal Secretary of Agricultural Department. The Principal Secretary automatically has a place on the Board of Regents. At its latest meeting, on August 18th 2009, at the behest of Subramanya, the Board reviewed and reversed their decision to oppose the construction of the road.
The minutes of the board meeting indicate a few conditions to the compromise, including reduction of the width of the road to 80 feet, a compound wall separating the road from the campus and adequate monetary compensation for the trees felled or transplanted elsewhere in the campus. The minutes make no mention of other key concerns, such as the effect of vehicular pollution on rare medicinal plants on campus, or several species of germplasms that are cultivated here.
Vice Chancellor P G Chengappa and Registrar Dr Chikkadevaih were unavailable for comment and the rest of the staff was unwilling to speak on the issue.
Even as the Board of Regents reversed its decision, some residents of the Vidyaranyapura area, around GKVK submitted a memorandum protesting the construction of the road to Governor Bhardwaj. He in turn passed it on to the Karnataka Urban Development Department.
“We set up residence in this area here because it is calm and quiet and out of the city,” says Vasanth Kumar, whose house is adjacent to the site of construction. He adds, “Vidyaranyapura is pollution free area, that will change”. The residents also complain of the lack of transparency in the BBMP’s decision-making process.
Prakash Kamath, from Vidyaranyapura says, “I read about the road only a few months ago in the paper when the board and staff took up the issue.”
BBMP included the road in the final version of the Comprehensive Development Plan 2015 (CDP) released on June 25th 2007, without first including it in the draft version that came out in 2005. The process of opening up the draft version is to give public a chance to contest any proposed development, a legitimate right of citizens mentioned in the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1961.
This appears to be just one of the many procedures overlooked by the authorities. Since the road will cut through forestland, the BBMP is obliged to conduct an Environment Impact Assessment and obtain permissions from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, under the Forest Conservation Act. Dr Subramanya, however claimed that the BBMP did not require permissions as it was developing an existing road.
Kumar points to a discrepancy even with this claim. “If you magnify the CDP by about 400 per cent, you will see the dotted line indicating the road. It very clearly says ‘proposed new road’ but now they’re calling it an existing road that needs widening.” What the BBMP claims is an existing road, is a mud path, that according to Kumar was dug up two years ago to lay a water pipeline. ⊕