First published here: http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/threat-to-bannerghatta-buffer-zone/article24122939.ece
Initial draft put Eco-Sensitive Zone at 269 sq.km., but this has been cut down to just 181.57 sq.km At least 73 eco-sensitive villages, of which 22 are ‘red list’ villages, have been left out of the buffer zone of the Bannerghatta National Park, which remains Bengaluru’s last big, urban forest. ‘Red list’ comprises villages that are adjacent to the forest and are highly eco-sensitive.While a movement has started in the city, rather successfully, to curb mining projects close to the forest, the pressure on the buffer zone may be a bigger threat to the eco-sensitive national park.
Siddhant Nowlakha studied the Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) during a fellowship with the Indian Institute for Human Settlements in Bengaluru.
Using a 2016 Indian Institute of Science report that puts villages in the region in five categories of eco-sensitivity, Mr. Nowlakhafound that just 58 of 147 villages in the top two levels of eco-sensitivity had been included in the draft ESZ. A further 16 are partially included (that is, only 100 metres into the village), while 73 are excluded.
Of these, the researcher placed 22 in the ‘red list’. “The Ministry of Environment and Forests does allow for buffer zone to be reduced to 100 metres in densely populated areas, and this makes sense in the context of the northern edge where Bengaluru lies. But, there is no logical reason, apart from vested interests, to exclude villages with low built-up area in the central and southern boundaries of the park,” said Mr. Nowlakha.
Considering the reduction of the ESZ, Mr. Nowlakha is of the opinion that the buffer zone will do little in protecting the area, or the elephants that either use it as a refuge or as a transit passage.
However, his study is based on the initial draft that put the ESZ at 269 sq.km., which, as The Hindu reported on November 2017, has been cut down by a third to just 181.57 sq.km.
Bannerghatta National Park is the first of 21 urban forests to be looked at by the researcher. The findings, he says, will be presented to the Supreme Court, which is hearing the matter on eco-sensitive zones.
Protecting this meagre buffer zone may be more than a challenge, finds the study. While the BDA’s master plan mentions the ESZ and recommends a status quo, Mr. Nowlakha says major transit projects that are being planned or being implemented are a threat.
The four-laning of Kanakapura Road, the metro on Bannerghatta Road till Gottigere and suburban lines connecting Bidadi and Ramanagaram will see land prices shoot up and more real estate projects.
“The Jigani industrial area is close by, and there is demand for cheap housing in the villages close to Bannerghatta. What we found is that as traditional dwellers there reduce, a large number of migrants are settling in, and this has led to a disconnect of the area with the forest, which we do not find in other protected zones where many derive their livelihood from forests,” said Mr. Nowlakha.
In the end, this could lead to an increased man-elephant conflict, as the principle of ESZ to provide a contiguous corridor for wildlife is undermined in Bannerghatta.
“The ESZ is not just about a 5-kilometre buffer, and should have been extended till Roerich farms and villages of Kanakapurawhere elephants often come. Without a proper buffer and lack of passages, you will see a lot more elephants in farmlands, particularly during the ragi harvesting season,” he said.