Road through campus forestland sets off High Court battle

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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.

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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.

map

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). See dotted line. Credit: Bhanu Sridharan

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.

eucalyptus trees

Eucalyptus tree uprooted for the road. Pic: Bhanu Shridhar

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’.

coconut trees

Coconut grove alonside the proposed road. Pic : Bhanu Sridharan.

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.

mud path

BBMP claims this is the existing road; Gandhi Krishi Vignana Kendra’s compund wall is seen in the background. Pic: Bhanu Sridharan.

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. 


About Bhanu Sridharan 12 Articles
Bhanu Sridharan is a Bangalore-based journalist and aspiring filmmaker.

5 Comments

  1. I am a resident of Vidyaranyapura, yes I defnetly agreey to the writer comments on cutting of trees and saving trees, but I would also like to share that the link road which was planned by BBMP was a boon to may people who travel daily to yelahanka and bellary road, as the road from Vidyaranyapura last bus stop to yelahanka is verry narrow. Many heavy vechals, buses use the only road between the residencal houses. Even many accidents has also accured in the past. I think the road between yelahanka and bellary road will be usefull for many people and a safe one.

  2. This new road is all of 9kms long connecting Bellary road to Jallahalli Yelahanka road. There exists a connection through BEL/HMT factory areas to Jalahall/MS Palya.From Yelahanka now we are connected to Doddaballapur road after scarificing many a trees.
    I am pretty sure this road is for the Venezia development coming up near the dairy.It is for the residents going to the city who would cut across.I see a larger nexus of builder lobby, bureaucrats and contractors who are promoting this road, cause at the moment there are just no other hub to be connected by this road.
    All this talk about connecting to Airport is just HOG WASH…………

  3. And at the end of the day – what purpose does this road serve ? They have developed the road from MS Palya to Yelahanka – so saying that this is for access to the Airport is nonsense. It should be stopped at all costs !

  4. The road is plain stupid paying homage to the car and to the international airport at a time of climate change.
    I have been staying here for the last 15 years and there never was a road through that space. A BWSSB pipeline built the track next to it.
    This place has thousands of SANDALWOOD trees, sapling which would be a treasure trove if preserved, not merely eucalyptus. Are you allowed to knock sandalwood trees off?
    The Shikra and the Indian Pitta are but two birds which inhabit the space, now a road will pass through.
    For heavens sake can you run a road through a University and expect research work to go on? Can you have a destroyer who cannot look beyond his nose sitting on the Board of Regents and expect a sane decision? I have spoken to almost all professors in the GKVK and all are against this crazy idea but are afraid to express it , such is the climate we create.
    The ex-Vice Chancellors have done an excellent job and may God provide them support so that the courts decide wisely.
    THE GKVK could become a 3rd Lalbagh/Cubbon Park with much more bio-diversity and research of world class if we can only leave alone what is well.

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