Multiple violations of the Supreme Court directive

Last year, the department collected a meagre Rs 37 crore as penalty from quarries for illegal lifting and transportation of minerals.

The furore in the conservation circles of the state over the reduction of the extent of eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) around Bannerghatta has thrown open Pandora’s box on multiple violations of the Supreme Court’s directive by the mining and quarrying lords and it may take decades to undo the damage inflicted upon the rugged terrain of Bannerghatta National Park (BNP). A joint meeting of various stakeholder departments including the BNP’s custodian, the Forest Department, brought out that mining and quarrying activities were unabated in both the ‘safe zone’ and the default ESZ area of the park.

Documents and minutes of the joint meeting held a couple of months ago and accessed by DH points to a large-scale violation of MoEF rules. While the Forest Department kept serving notices and sending correspondences to crack down on the burgeoning quarrying and crushing units, the officials of the Mines and Geology only feared that the mining giants may move the court over the existing confusion on ESZ in the absence of a proper notification and obtain a legal immunity to further action.

Of the three wildlife ranges under the jurisdiction of BNP, the Anekal Range—the connecting patch of forests between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is severely affected with a whopping 10 stone quarries and eight stone crushers obtaining permission to carry out the operation. The Forest Department officials of Anekal Range clarified that two quarrying sites are located within the safe zone (one km) of the park and 14 within the default ESZ area (10 km). Some of the lessees have even encroached a few guntas outside the purview of their allotted land and carry out the mining exercise.

Irreparable damage

“The SC, in connection with Writ Petition 460/2004, had ruled in 2006 that in the absence of a proper notification on ESZ by the state, 10 km from the boundary of the National Park would act as an ESZ and any projects within such distance must obtain prior clearance from the forestry and wildlife angles, including the clearance from the standing committee of the The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) headed by the Prime Minister. The Forest Department itself has admitted that not all of them have obtained permission to carry out mining and crushing. Will the state government come clean on who was behind their daring act of carrying out mining and crushing activities in the sensitive area? Will the government initiate action against such officials?” questioned a conservationist based out of Bengaluru.

Interestingly during the meeting held on June 14, 2018, the stakeholders—forest, mines and geology, and revenue department officials collectively resolved to recommend cancellation of licence to quarry and mining of 14 firms. “First the government would allow them to begin activities and when the pressure mounts on from various quarters, the officials decide to recommend cancellation. Isn’t it enough for the state government to initiate action against those who gave permission to mine and crush stone without clearance by the NBWL and Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change?”

In fact, the aggrieved people of Anekal and adjoining villagers first filed a police complaint and an FIR was registered on March 3, 2016 against various quarry owners for causing irreparable damage to their homes and village neighbourhood. Following the complaint, the quarry owners threatened the villagers and hushed up the issue. On a couple of occasions,
refusing to withstand the threat, the armed villagers have even chased the quarry workforce and disrupted the mining activities.

The clout of the mining industrialists is so powerful that in 2012, a senior IFS officer then holding charge of Ramanagara district that abuts the BNP was attacked by more than 25 goondas inside the forest when his team of officials tried to seize a truck illegally transporting granite stones to Chennai port. An FIR was registered against the goons at Kanakapura town police station.

Following widespread uproar and complaints, Bengaluru Urban DC BM Vijay Shankar last week visited the sites of mining and quarrying that were reportedly being operated illegally at Kannayyana Agrahara along with officials from other departments. The deputy commissioner orally instructed the mines and geology officials to stop all quarrying and crushing operations. Further, on December 7, a notice was also issued to the district geologist seeking explanation on the illegal activities.

The DC in his notice acknowledged, “It is evident that the forest areas in and around Anekal come under the protected limits and the eco-sensitive zone.
Conducting mining activities in such sensitive areas will not only affect the environment but also jeopardize the lives of local people. Even though directions were issued previously to crack down on such mining and quarrying activities, no action has been taken on the ground. Keeping these issues in mind, I hereby direct you to entrust officials to check on any illegal mining, quarrying and stone crushing operations within Bannerghatta or any other parts of the district.”

Speaking to DH on illegal granite mining and stone quarrying in the area, Bengaluru Rural MP, D K Suresh said, “I have been after the district administration to crack down on such illegal activities. I had directed them to evict even those who are operating beyond 1 km area as they cause pollution. But I was told all of them had licences. However, I have directed officials not to renew the licence.”

Bengaluru Rural MP, D K Suresh

While the conservationists are up against the fresh notification, D K Suresh strongly defends the reduction of ESZ area around the BNP. “Those who have been opposing must understand that Bannerghatta is part of Bengaluru and not located outside. Having 4.5 km ESZ will certainly come in the way of development in the areas around the national park. Even the 1 km restriction will affect the villagers in Mantapa and Bannerghatta. Unlike other national parks, Bannerghatta does not have government land all around but mostly private land, which has commercial and industrial value. With the ESZ, the land loses the value, thus affecting the livelihoods. We are also for animals, wildlife and undisturbed ecosystem. But there has to be some balance,” he said.

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