Rampant encroachment of the forest area of Bannerghatta Biological Park, led to the area being reduced by 28.45 percent s in 2015 alone. The relentless sand mining and stone quarrying along the watershed region of the park has severely impacted the water retention capacity of the Cauvery basin. Despite the IISc submitting a comprehensive report on the impact of large scale mining on the forest to the forest department a couple of years ago, it seems nothing has changed on the ground since mining continues unabated with the forest department remaining in staunch denial of the issue. Aksheev Thakur reports
Just 22 kms from the concrete jungle that Bengaluru is fast turning into, is the famed Bannerghatta Biological Park (BNP) that offers a safe habitat for several species of wildlife in over 100 sq. kms of forests. Although founded in 1970, it was declared a national park four years later. Described as one of the oldest habitats of many endemic animal species like the Asian elephants, the park is part of the Mysore Elephant Reserve, that is a part of an important corridor running through the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, the Tali reserve forest, Kanakapura state forest and so on.
It’s an important habitat as South India supports 10,000 of the 26,000 wild elephants in the country and BNP is the confluence of the Eastern and Western ghats where they roam.
But today like so many other green sanctuaries, it is under threat from both mining and human encroachments, warns a study by the premier Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) in the city. In a 2016 report the institute says there are 120 human settlements within 5 kms of the park and the more recent have encroached on its forests.
The impact is clearly evident. Its moist deciduous forest cover that was spread over 50.4 per cent of its area in 1973, had reduced to about 28.5 per cent in 2015 “due to anthropogenic pressure,” the report reveals. Another 2015 report by IISC says over 300 cases of encroachment of BNP’s forests were registered till 2008 and drew attention to the involvement of local residents in illegal sand mining along the watercourses inside it.
“There are several residential projects and layouts within 100 to 500 meters of the BNP’s boundary. And more large residential layouts are in the pipeline in Indlavadi, Bagganadoddi, Kona sandra villages,” the report notes.
Strongly recommending a ban on construction in the park’s vicinity, it also advises against issue of new licenses for quarrying and sand mining around it to minimise the environmental and social impacts on its habitat and wildlife.
Additional Chief Principal Conservator of Forests, C Jayaram insists there is no stone quarrying and sand mining in the park’s eco-sensitive zone. “How can we stop mining when it does not fall within the jurisdiction of the national park? Silent zones were declared in 1991 and they have been maintained in the interest of the wildlife,” he says.
Lead scientist of the IISc, Dr TV Ramachandra, however, begs to differ. The forest department, he claims, is aware about the stone quarrying and sand mining in the eco sensitive zone of the park. “One can clearly see the movement of hundreds of trucks from Ragihalli , which is within 100 metres of the park that is declared an eco-sensitive zone. Despite submitting our report to the department nothing has changed,” he regrets.
Activists up in arms against quarrying, seek SC intervention
It's not only scientists of the IISc. who are concerned about the ecological impact of illegal sand mining and stone quarrying near the Bannerghatta National Park(BNP) but also environmentalists like tree doctor, Vijay Nishanth.
He says the quarrying has been hindering the movement of jumbos in the park’s elephant corridor over the past six or seven months as vehicles carrying the stones frequently pass through it. Also, the blasting of dynamite on these sites disturbs the homing sense of elephants, which then stray into villages, leading to man-animal conflict, according to him.
“The quarrying near the national park pollutes the water bodies too that the wildlife depend on,” the tree doctor adds.
So concerned is he about the park’s future that he has submitted a memorandum to Union Environment Minister, Harsh Vardhan, appealing to him to intervene and stop an ecological disaster from happening.
“We hope he will take stern action. Why has permission been given for quarrying in this area by the mines and geology department?” Mr Nishanth demands angrily, adding, “BJP leaders must march from Vidhana Soudha to the Bannerghatta National Park the way the Congress did to oppose mining in Ballari district.”
An online petition demanding the stalling of the mining around BNP has surfaced as well on change.org seeking the intervention of the Supreme Court in the matter.
But rubbishing claims of environmentalists that illegal stone quarrying within the buffer zone of the park has changed its topography , Mr C Jayaram, Additional Chief Principal Conservator of Forest insists its eco sensitive zone is under no threat.
“We will take legal action against those spreading these rumours because it jeopardises the credibility of an institution,” he warns, adding that the permission for mining may have been given by the Mines and Geology Department. “Whether legal or illegal, the forest department can only intervene if the mining takes places within the eco-sensitive zone,” he adds.
The Indian Wildlife Board had on January 1, 2002 declared 10 kms around all national parks and wildlife sanctuaries an eco-sensitive zone under the Environment (Protection) Act. The buffer zone was, however, later reduced to
Mining will worsen man-animal conflict: Dr TV Ramachandra
Although the IISc. report says mining is rampant in the Bannerghatta National Park, the forest department denies it. Your comment?
It is not true. They know it is illegal and they are aware about the stone quarrying and sand mining in the area. One can clearly see the movement of hundreds of trucks from Ragihalli , which is within 100 metres of the eco-sensitive zone. Despite submitting our report to the forest department, nothing has changed.
What is the impact of sand and stone mining on the park’s wildlife?
It will aggravate man-animal conflict and the water retention capacity of the Cauvery basin will fall if the mining continues unabated. The eco-sensitive region is meant for the protection of wildlife and to sustain their resources. If we have no tigers left in the region it will lead to imbalance in the eco system.
Even if we assume that the mining is taking place outside the eco-sensitive zone, will the dynamite blasts not affect the wildlife?
The blasting is done both at night and during the day , affecting not only the wildlife but also the surrounding villages. It has polluted the groundwater, which is now depleting. Due to mining, the particulate matter has increased in the air, resulting in respiratory diseases among both the wildlife and humans. The only difference is the wild animals in the region are as innocent as children. If the plunder is not stopped , it will have a disastrous impact on them.