Karnataka Government Becoming Environmental?

Gaur at the sharp boundary between tea plantation and native forest, near Valparai, Tamil Nadu. Photos taken by Dr Christopher Young.

Gaur at the sharp boundary between tea plantation and native forest, near Valparai, Tamil Nadu. Photos taken by Dr Christopher Young.

Bengaluru       Although the national government in India seems so biased towards business and development that NGOs, unions, and others worry for their future, some state governments seem to be feeling the wind blow a different direction leaving some hope for the future.  The two-year old government in Karnataka, claiming Bengaluru as its largest city, may be one encouraging example.

The local Deccan Chronicle gives the new government low marks on many issues but pointedly in article after article scores them highly on environmental issues including no tolerance towards problems throughout the state in mining disputes.  The scoring must be on a curve though since the previous day’s Deccan Chronicle story on a major study of the Western Ghats, part of the higher ground, watershed feeding Karnataka and several other Indian states, reported the study as a battle of “miners vs greens.”  An earlier report on the ecologically sensitive area or ESA had sought a blanket ban on mining and industrial activity in 69% of the area, while a newer report would only limit 39%, bringing 60000 square kilometers under the ESA and the ban.  The Karnataka government has not agreed to stop quarrying and sand mining yet, citing development needs.

The paper gives the government more consistent good grades on their policies around land encroachment, which can be translated as stopping builders from erecting developments on vital wetlands and lake beds, an issue well understood in Florida, Louisiana, and other Gulf States in the USA.  In one area they have demolished commercial areas and resorts on 140 acres.   Not that they had much choice since a higher court had ordered the action after residents brought a lawsuit complaining of the constant flooding in their houses, particularly during the monsoon season.  The demolitions do not affect residents, so it’s a tricky environmental problem.

Advocates, including Leo Saldanha with the Environmental Support Group, who ACORN India’s organizers see as the benchmark on such issues, argue that the lakes need to be rejuvenated in order to serve as catchment areas and rebuild the water table.  They are demanding a cleanup of all of the concrete debris from the building demolition in order to achieve those results, and worry that anything less by the government will lead to future encroachment or the creation of a dumping ground.  If the lake is unable to once again hold water, then it must be limited to growing trees, not further development, they argue.

Once again the scorecard is not simple, indicating that concerns over the environment and any curbs on development are still difficult even as the current government seems to be doing better.  Protests are continuing by various community organizations in the encroachment areas whose stated aim is to prevent the government from “caving in to the builders.”

Old habits seem hard to break, but the balance seems to be shifting in the state from development at any cost to a recognition that the environment has to be a first priority as well in order to make the growing city of Bengaluru sustainable.

India Greenpeace Funds-1

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