Land of plentiful woes

Land of plentiful woes

As UAS struggles to protect its precious land, the State government mercilessly chips away at the biodiversity heritage area, unmindful of the disastr

Land of plentiful woes

If the State government has its way, GKVK’s lush green surroundings appear set to shrink. But the varsity and a group of former vice-chancellors, concerned about losing the GKVK’s biodiversity, are in no mood to give up without a fight.

Since its establishment in 1946, GKVK assiduously remained an expanse of green, untouched by the reckless concrete growth all around. But March 2009 changed all that and triggered a wave of demands for its land from different quarters. The battle to preserve its land has kept GKVK on tenterhooks since then. GKVK had to protect the 1,380 acres, including the land tagged as “Biodiversity Heritage” hot spot by the Karnataka Biodiversity Board. A total of 560 acres is declared a reserve forest area.

Trouble from the Palike began for GKVK on March 16, 2009, with then Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) commissioner, Dr S Subramanya, sending a letter to the principal secretary, Department of Agriculture, seeking 24 acres of land for a link road. His rationale: The road was “mandatory” under the Comprehensive Development Plan 2015 (CDP). However, the CDP itself has been questioned in the High Court through a writ petition.

Nevertheless, the BBMP managed to acquire 24 acres of so-called ‘marginal’ land in GKVK to construct a link road on the periphery of the campus. Although the Palike could complete only 4.4 km of the 7-km road project, enough damage was done. About 800 trees were uprooted, including mango and sapota trees meant for research purposes. Despite massive protests by the GKVK students and faculty members, the construction continued unabated.

The Palike’s plan envisaged the road to cut through the GKVK campus connecting Yelahanka and Yeshwantpur. But what halted the project midway was not the varsity’s protests but the Canara Bank Layout residents who refused to let the road run through their layout.

Yet, the stoppage gave some momentum to the varsity’s protests. A group of former vice-chancellors of the university stepped in, drawing attention to the demands for the GKVK land from various quarters.

The renewed protests had the desired effect. The Palike Standing Committee on Major Works on December 13 admitted that the road was indeed an “illegal” stretch and the project will be shelved. The Palike panel even issued a statement that show-cause notices would be sent to all responsible for the project, indicating that Subramanya, too, would be asked to explain. The matter is to be heard in the BBMP Council in December-end.

Meanwhile, the half-done link road inside the campus remains unused by commuters. Instead, it has become a safe haven for illegal activities. As some GKVK officials assert, the road might have been a deal between the Palike and some developers, whose projects are coming up on the GKVK compound.

Land leakages

The BBMP was definitely not the first to claim the GKVK land. Ever since its inception, the varsity has had its land sliced away, albeit in portions. The State Horticulture department was allotted 100 acres to set up a horticulture university. Lakhs of trees from the GKVK reserve forest area are believed to have been uprooted to make way for cultivation land meant for horticultural research. Another 50 acres is in the pipeline to be given to the department.

Many more organisations have acquired GKVK land. The National Centre for Biological Sciences, for instance, had taken away 21 acres. Later, 20 acres were allotted for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine two years ago. Another 20 acres went to the Project Directorate of Biological Control, a part of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.

Five acres were allotted to the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board for its ground-level reservoir, and the drought monitoring cell was allotted another five acres. Ten more acres were acquired by the Karnataka Remote-Sensing Centre.

Judicial Layout seeks link road

As if these land allotments weren’t enough, the GKVK has to deal with a land demand for the Judicial Layout. Citing the existence of a cart road, the Layout people have sought for an extension of the link road between Yeshwanthpur with Yelahanka.

Although the Judicial Layout has a straight road connecting it to National Highway 7, residents don’t want to use it, since the road cuts across a railway track. “Each time a train passes, the railway crossing will be closed for more than 20 minutes. Moreover, post offices, banks and hospitals are closer through GKVK. We are asking for a road only for our Judicial Layouts residents,” explains M Chikkalingaiah, secretary, Judicial Layout Site Owners and Residents' Welfare Association.

According to the Association president, B V Byra Reddy, GKVK has been requested to allow vehicles of only Judicial Layout residents to pass through the road. “I don’t think that just by the movement of a few vehicles, the biodiversity inside the mango research plots will be affected,” reasons Reddy.

But GKVK authorities contend that a road cannot be built in the name of an existing cart road. The authorities say the Railways had agreed to construct an overbridge at the level crossing on the road connecting the layout to the national highway, at a cost of Rs 13 crore. The Association members, however, say there is no such project. In any case, the varsity officials are certain that if vehicles are permitted to ply on the GKVK road, the biodiversity will definitely be affected.

Thindlu residents’ demand

GKVK has also to contend with demands for land by the residents of Thindlu, Vidyaranyapura and Allalasandra, who want a road connecting their areas to Bellary Road. In fact, they want the half-done BBMP road to be completed. “The road will definitely help a lot of residents to connect to other parts of the City. Currently, we are using smaller connecting roads from Jakkur,” says S Prakash, president of the BEL Layout Residents’ Welfare Association.

Prakash argues that while GKVK is raising a hue and cry over the loss of 800-odd trees, the varsity had itself allotted 100 acres to a horticulture university leading to the uprooting of several trees.

Supporting the Thindlu residents’ demand for a link road is corporator Nandini Srinivas from Vidyaranyapura. “These residents have to travel long distances to reach the City. When there is already a road built by the BBMP, why can’t it be used as a link road,” she wonders.

Eyeing a slice in the GKVK land pie

* 24 acres: Acquired by BBMP for the Yelahanka-Yeshwanthpur Link Road
* 20 acres: Sought by the Government for judges’ residential quarters
* 5 acres: Sought by the Meteorological Department
* 2 acres: Sought by the Dept of Science and Technology, National Seeds   Corporation, Police Department, and Fire Force Dept each
* 2 acres: Sought by the Social Welfare Department for a hostel
* 2 acres: Sought by the Karnataka State Open University, Mysore
* Judicial Layout Association demanding land for a link road to GKVK, citing the existence of a cart road
* Thindlu residents demanding a connecting road from Thindlu to Bellary Road through GKVK