The elephant corridor in the Bannerghatta National Park (BNP) is being threatened by the stone quarrying lobby as new licenses are being granted to the quarry owners despite the forest department’s regular reminders to put these activities on halt.
Dr Sunil Panwar, deputy conservator of forest, told Bangalore Mirror, “Letters have been written to the mines and geology department to stop mining in the area earmarked as elephant corridor, but it has failed to initiate any action against the quarry owners.”
The copies of the letters written to various departments by the forest officials are with Bangalore Mirror. The department asked to cancel quarrying licenses in Ragihalli, Shivanahalli and surrounding areas coming under the Anekal taluk, to protect the elephant corridor.
Ragihalli falls in the corridor that connects Karadikkal and Madeshwara state forests of the BNP. Elephants from BNP pass the Hosur forest division in Tamil Nadu, Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka and also the narrow forests between Jayapuradoddi and Bilaganaguppa settlements.
A report drafted by the Centre’s Project Elephant, along with the Karnataka Forest Department, in 2015, recognised this corridor as one of the most sensitive elephant corridors, and further suggested that development work like quarrying was a major threat to elephant movement. Despite this, stone quarrying and crushing continues undeterred in this area.
Environmentalist Dr AN Yelappa Reddy said, “To the best of my knowledge, any mining activity within 10 km of any national park area is illegal. Quarrying in Ragihalli and Shivanahalli not only threatens the movement of elephants, but it will also give rise to man-elephant conflict, and the dust generated due to quarrying and stone crushing will have an adverse impact on the ecology.”
However, Panwar said that the quarry owners are using the loopholes in the laws to acquire new mining licenses, and at times they even furnish wrong information to get environmental clearances. A Supreme Court order passed in 2004 states that permission for mining cannot be given within a range of one kilometre of a forest area.
Conveniently, the height of the hill is used to measure one kilometre, he added.
Besides the letter to the mining and geology department dated June 4, 2015, the forest department also wrote to the urban deputy commissioner and special deputy commissioner, on June 25, 2015, alerting them about the issue.
After taking into consideration the sensitivity of the matter, the urban DC also wrote a letter to the mines and geology department to immediately stop mining activities in the area, on December 12, 2015, but to no avail.
Vishnu Narain, a conservationist residing in the area, said, “Despite this entire attempt, the mining activity in the area is going on unabated. The government officials are hand in glove with the quarry owners, and under their patronage, quarrying is thriving in the area. If strong action is not initiated at the earliest, the corridor will be lost soon.”
When this reporter tried to speak with the people residing in the villages near these stone quarries, they refused to comment due to the fear of the quarry owners.
However, they handed a copy of a First Information Report filed at the Anekal Circle police station on March 3, 2016, against the quarry owners who threatened the villagers for protesting against quarrying activities.
Narain said he was surprised how the quarry owners continued to get new licenses and environmental clearance. Citing an example, he produced documents furnished by one quarry owner on September 30, 2015, to procure environmental clearance for quarrying in 2 acres of barren government land, which mentions that Shivanahalli village doesn’t come under forest area.
Panwar also checked the documents and confirmed that false information had been furnished by the quarry owners to get environmental clearances. He said that in the recent past, quarrying activities had also led to a spurt in poaching activities in the area, and that it was high time strict action was initiated to stop these.