The consistent efforts of residents, activists and environmentalists to save Turahalli forest from being converted to a tree park have paid off to some extent as the local MLA, ST Somashekar, and the Forest Minister, Aravind Limbavali, recently assured to 'temporarily drop' the project.
Although the decision has come as a relief to residents and activists who fought for it, this doesn't end their fight as they have put forth a set of demands to be considered by the government.
Some of their demands include increasing the security for Turahalli forest- Bengaluru's only surviving forest situated 20 kilometres off Kanakpura road, strengthen its perimeter boundaries with proper fencing, have more guards and install CCTV cameras at critical points, involve local communities to preserve and protect the forest, consult public for any major developmental plans for the forest and improve the existing forest.
They have also demanded to improve and develop the existing areas earmarked for public parks in the vicinity of the forest, improve water bodies, increase biodiversity through mixed-species afforestation using local varieties of trees and controlling invasive species, periodically conduct a census of the forest's flora and fauna by publishing the reports and remove encroachments.
The residents and activists told The Logical Indian that they would work with the government to fulfil the demands.
Last week, the Forest Minister, Aravind Limbavali, and the local MLA, ST Somashekar, including other forest department officials had visited the forest and met the residents. Many questions were raised by the citizens about the necessity of the government's proposed tree park in the forest.
The minister later assured that he would discuss the concerns with the Chief Minister, BS Yediyurappa, and ask him to consider shifting the tree park proposal to some other location in the same constituency (the forest comes under two constituencies- Bangalore South and Yeshwanthpura). He also directed the forest department officials to fence the property.
What's Issue All About?
The BS Yediyurappa-led BJP government in its "Mission 2022 for Bengaluru", announced that 400 acres of the 'protected' Turahalli minor forest land would be converted into a Tree Park.
The residents got to know about the project after some of them who stay in the vicinity spotted excavators in the forest area. Cautioned by this, they confirmed the project after some of them saw a government's advertisement about the 2022 Bengaluru mission in one of the newspapers.
Followed by this, many concerned citizens who are now an army of more than 10,000 people from Bengaluru came under the banner #SaveTurahalli and raised strong objections to the proposal. They have held several protests and walkathons so far expressing their opposition to the same.
Why Are Citizens Opposing Tree Park?
The residents, activists and environmentalists have said that the tree park would lead to an unwanted intervention inside the forest which in turn would threaten the already endangered biodiversity. "The proposed tree park will bring an access to the public, and will have amenities like 10-kilometre walkway, toilets, canteen, parking lot, children's play area, senior citizens gym etc, converting the remaining last vestiges of forests into parks," one of the residents in the vicinity of the forest, Dr A Bhanu, told The Logical Indian.
He added, "All these activities associated with the mega tree park, which are non-forestry need many clearances under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. Without due clearances, the forest officials are bent to destroy the last remaining lung space in the city."
One of the local activists, KV Prasanna, said that the forest was home to more than 120 species of birds, 29 species of butterflies, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and so on. "There have been instances of spotted deer and wild boar making a visit to this part of the forest. All these species of wildlife are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. The site is also a breeding ground for peacocks. These species would not thrive in the tree park as their natural habitat would be impacted with increasing footfalls and concrete infrastructure," said Prasanna.
Citing Article 47 of the Indian constitution, the citizens said that it provided "the state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forest and wildlife of the country" and hence the constitution had not provided the State with the ownership of the resources of environment or forests, but the position of the State was that of a trustee, who was required to protect and enrich these resources for the public at large.
Accordingly, they said, in the context of the public Trust Doctrine, the legal title is vested in the state and equitable title in the public. Thus, the State is responsible as a trustee to manage the property in the larger interest of the public.
"The forest department has already carved out a tree park in 38 acres of Turahalli forest. As of today, the tree park stands under-utilised. There are 40 areas around the Turahalli forest that are earmarked for parks that cane developed. At this juncture creating another tree park of 400 acres will be detrimental to the forest ecosystem," added Bhanu.
Watch our video on the issue here:
What Have Citizens Done So Far? What's Next?
The citizens have raised their voices against the move by holding protests. "We have held three protests so far in the last two months, and held a walkathon recently. We had also collectively petitioned Additional Chief Secretary Sandeep Dave and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Sanjai Mohan. This was before the minister assured us about the temporary halt of the project," said Soumya, another resident.
She further said, "Now that the minister has assured that the project will be temporarily dropped. We are very happy that our efforts are bearing fruits gradually. We will wait and see what happens further. We will also work collectively with the government in fulfilling our demands." However, the residents had earlier told us that they would continue their fight until the government dropped the project.