Development, at what cost?

OPINION

Development, at what cost?

Nandi Hills, Bangalore’s most famous historical spot was known as Ananda Giri meaning Hill of Happiness during the Chola period, and not without reason, judging by its popularity today. Geologically too, it is a rare area, for it is seldom that you see a rock face of over a 1000 meters encircling three sides of a mountain 4851 feet (1478 meters) high, and topped by an evergreen forest. The variety of its ecological niches, from evergreen to deciduous to dry makes it of special interest to naturalists of all hues.
The fortress built on the summit of a rock was “traditionally held impregnable until stormed by the army of Comwallis on 19th October 1791.” Later it became a retreat for British Raj officials, and then the residence of Sir Mark Cubbon, the Resident, whose name is a household word in Bangalore. Before the British victory, Nandi Hills was the summer capital of Tipu Sultan and Hyder Ali, the rulers of Mysore who had an exceptionally discriminating eye for natural beauty. Lal Bagh, Srirangapatnam, the Kunigal Stud Farm are examples of their creations which indicate their aesthetic sense and interest in detail.

What birds say about biodiversity?
Birds are reputedly excellent indicators of the biodiversity of an environment and in Nandi, amongst its numerous avians, there are two species which are of special interest to ornithologists: the Nilgiri wood pigeon (Columba elphinstonii) and the Yellow throated Bulbul (Pycnonotus xantholaemus).

The pigeon is endemic to the Western Ghats, located 500 kilometres away from Nandi, with no evidence of the presence of this bird in the intervening area. This naturally reflects the similarity in the conditions that brought about the evergreen patch in Nandi Hills and the Western Ghats. This fact alone invests Nandi with an ecological status of great importance. The Bulbul is patchily distributed in several stony hilltops with the trees and ground cover favoured by this bird. Its sighting is always exciting for birders.
One would have thought that because of its rare historical background and unique geological features the authorities would take special care to protect its identity and prevent any untoward development from raising its head in the area, but the breakneck pace of development in Northern Bangalore is a cause for concern.

Rustam Vania (of Gobar Times fame) sent an alarm signal on the Internet suggesting that it was important to find out what the plans of the Horticulture Department (the nodal agency) were about Nandi Hills. The Bangalore Environment Trust (BET) requested leading birder and entomologist S Subramanya to have a look at the DPR (detailed project report) and find out if the plans had taken cognisance of the sensitiveness and fragility of the area.

Subramanya took an enormous amount of trouble, visiting the area many times for discussion with the Project Officer, and also making a presentation before the Director of Horticulture S K Hegde. As we had suspected from the past actions of the authorities, they have given precedence to “janta” tastes instead of planning for the enjoyment of the discriminating visitor.

Wide range of birds
According to Subramanya, “Some of the birds of Nandi Hills include Blue-headed Rock Thrush (Monticola cinclorhynchus), White-throated Ground-thrush (Zoothera citrina), Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula), Pied Thrush (Zoothera wardii), Indian Blue Robin (Luscinia brunnea), Olive-backed (Tree) Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni), Ultramarine Flycatcher (Ficedula superciliaries), Verditor Flycatcher (Eumyias thalassinus), Spotted Babbler (Pellorneum ruficeps), and the Indian Scimitar Babbler (Pomatorhinus horsfieldii)..... Nandi Hills never ceases to spring surprises on a visiting birdwatcher .... For a willing birdwatcher there is never a dull moment on top of the hills. The ideal trip ... would include a fall morning at the top followed by a walk along the fortifications to look out for birds of prey and later, trek down the old Palegar (the chieftain) trail along the hill slopes...”

The DPR includes a food court which according to Subramanya is planned to be located in an area which will harm the habitat of the Nilgiri Wood Pigeon as well as of several other resident and migratory birds. The plan to create artificial waterfalls is just absurd, in an area where natural waterfalls already exist.
And why have a bonsai garden in a place where it will look outlandish against the grandeur of the natural scene?
And to think of a fountain in our water starved city is a mockery of sensible planning. Dr Subramanya has suggested alternative sites for some other facilities, such as the parking area.

The Chairman of BET Capt S Prabhala has had some discussions with the Director of Horticulture and it was agreed that an advisory committee would be established to decide on the final plan.

We hope this Committee will be established soon. Nandi Hills is too precious a place to be left to the whims of one government department.

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