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Bengaluru's Last Wilds



Bangalore's last remaining urban wild - Turahalli forest - spreads over perhaps no more than 600 acres today and has been encircled, attacked, encroached and impoverished over several decades, but most intensely, in the last two, by the city's laissez faire expansion and deliberately under-regulated land 'development' process. 


Today, it is split apart from the Turahalli Minor State Forest by the contested Banashankari 6th Stage to its West, hemmed in by the development in Talghattapura, Vajarahalli and land grabbing around Bada Manvarthe (BM) Kaval in the South, more of Banashankari 6th Stage and private housing society layouts in the North and Gubbalala in the East. 


'Turahalli day' is observed by Bangalore outdoors-lovers of all kinds: amateur naturalists ('amateur' naturalists in Bangalore span a scale from greenhorns to near professional/academic in their depth of understanding), activists, rock climbers, bicyclists and hikers, and began to be 'observed' a few years ago as an expression of solidarity with the common goal of preserving Turahalli. It seems to have grown into an engrossing, constructive and sizeable confluence these days - although with a distinctively urban, high-disposable-income, flavor to it. Groups of friends and family are seen participating in tree and insect walks, bouldering, walking or cycling.  There is also a great deal of collective know-how and awareness represented by 'friends of Turahalli', who frequent it, about plants, trees, birds and insects and intense confabulations are in progress, around macro lenses, about the species of a butterfly specimen or bug.  Notes are exchanged about trees, bark textures, owls, flowers and bird sightings, even as other, sports-equipment laden groups enjoy their day out.


Amidst all of this there is trash and litter, but far less than would have been around had many of these folks not been coming in with trash bags and tidying up.  A lot of it is just by the Muneeswara temple (just below which old fashioned and ill conceived social forestry has resulted in Eucalyptus and Acacia auriculiformis groves) along with broken liquor bottles and shards.  Contrast this with a hand painted sign at one of the trail entrances that pleads, in English, 'Please keep the forest clean'.


Are the "semi-urban", "semi-modern" among us, then, less sensitive trash throwers than the trash collecting, urban-sophisticate nature lover, wanting to preserve these last wilds, I wonder?  And how do you evaluate ('global' measures such as carbon-footprint, aside) the local and immediate societal impact of the "semi-urban", who might throw trash around and head to Turahalli to get drunk and play cards, versus the 'friend of Turahalli' who may drive an air-conditioned car or SUV, live in a high rise apartment and holiday in Europe, but eats organic, has read Michael Pollan, segregates her/his trash, carries a cloth bag to the store, and knows taxonomy?   Is consumption the ultimate measure?  Or is it about 'managing' consumption? (Northern Europe is certainly 'clean' (in quotes) - but not for a want of consumption)  Knee jerk, quick reactions about 'western' and 'third world' lifestyles aside, Turahalli day left me with more questions about our world where the many-variable nature of environmental, local and social impact can tie you up in knots.


An aside on land grabbing in Bengaluru and Karnataka

Even as I stand and take in the stark contrasts of Turahalli and the frantic, tragically misplanned, 'urban development' (in quotes) around it, I am drawn to dig around, a little, about land grabbing in our city.


With land laws and regulations having been thrown completely to the winds, across the state, and most intensely, in Bengaluru, it surprises nobody that it has deteriorated to the shockingly unlivable state it is in today.  In a recent conversation with a visitor, I was asked 'why I (or anyone) would choose to live here today'.  For those who may have any sense of roots in the city, and a recollection of its modestly livable past, even having to field a question like this is a nightmare come true.



For a sense of the extent of land grabbing in the state, please read this interview with V. Balasubramanian, Chairman of the Task Force on Recovery and Protection of Government Lands, set up by by the Government of Karnataka. His task force published a report, in June 2011, sub-titled "Greed and Connivance" after two years of work which can be publicly downloaded from the above interview page.


For Bangalore, specifically, a Joint House Committee of the Karnataka Legislature submitted two reports on "Encroachment of Government Lands in Bangalore City / Urban District".  The committee, under the chairmanship of former Arkalgud (Hassan district) MLA, A.T. Ramaswamy, submitted its reports in 2006 and 2007.


The Interim Report - Part 1, submitted on Dec 12, 2006 indicated that based on its 'information collected', 13,614 acres of land had been encroached in Bangalore city/Urban district alone corresponding to a 2006 guidance value (much less than the real/market value) of over Rs. 27,000 crores.


The Interim Report - Part 2, dated July 12, 2007, makes for even more astonishing reading and names names of private builders, government officials and government entities involved in shamefully illegal land diversion and shady transactions.  The shenanigans, astonishing by any proportion, are highlighted by this excerpt from the report "Grabbing of 180 acres in BM Kaval village in Bangalore South Taluk by a leading business family, 11 acres of tank bed in Pattandur Agrahara, Bangalore East Taluk by creating bogus records, 1,099 acres of forest, 313 acres of tank bed lands, 767 acres in Bannergahtta National Park, temple lands of Dharmarayaswami temple and other temples, valuable landed property in Chamarajpet willed to Endowment Department but made over to land-grabbers by officials of Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), taking illegal possession of public roads by Purvankara Builders with the help of BBMP and Registration Department officials, enrolling bogus and ineligible members in Judicial Employees Housing Cooperative Society, Shantinagara House Building Cooperative Society, etc, are but a few examples of a large number of scandals observed by the Committee".


Needless to say, successive Governments in Karnataka have taken little action on the findings of the Joint House Committee and, after tremendous dilly dallying, notified a weak Karnataka Land Grabbing (Prohibition) Act in October 2014.  The "Greed and Connivance" report on Recovery and Protection of Government Lands was never published and has been made available only by the Chairman, V. Balasubramanian, in his personal capacity.