Activists in Bengaluru have approached the Karnataka High Court urging that a group of “illegal” road projects in and around Bengaluru proposed by the Karnataka Road Development Corporation Limited (KRDCL), which require felling of 8,651 trees, be junked. Based on their petition, the High Court on Wednesday issued notices to KRDCL (a state govt body), state of Karnataka, Karnataka Forest Department and Union Ministry of Forests, Environment and Climate Change asking them to respond by February 24 when the matter is listed to be heard again.
These projects include widening of 15-km stretch from Nelamangala to Madhure; 23-km stretch from Madhure to Devanahalli; 33-km stretch from Bidadi to Jigani; Bannerghatta to Anekal; and the 39-km stretch from Anekal to Hoskote. Several protests have been held against these projects. In some of these stretches, trees have already been felled.
The primary contention of the petition by Voice of Sarjapur (a local resident group), Jhatkaa.org (a campaigning platform) and one Rajani Santosh is that these projects are illegal on environmental grounds and should be scrapped.
This is because the KRDCL had proposed felling these high number of trees without prior environment clearance under the EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) Notification, 2006, in absence of Forest Clearance under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and in absence of prior recommendation of the Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife (SC-NBWL) under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. As a result, the entire project is illegal and “there is no remedy available under the law to make it legal ex post facto”. The petition also cited a March 2020 Supreme Court judgement (Bengaluru Development Authority v. Mr Sudhakar Hegde & Ors, Civil Appeal 2566 of 2019), which upheld the significance of the EIA process under the EIA Notification 2006.
This litigation comes after the activists failed to get adequate responses in the form of an EIA, detailed project report and cost-benefit analysis from KRDCL for a year starting from January 2020 regarding the projects, even after filing RTI applications.
While a stay has not been granted on the project(s), KRDCL has given an undertaking to the HC to not go ahead with tree felling in Bengaluru city in connection with a different litigation to tree cutting.
In their petition, the petitioners have sought stalling of these projects as they will impact the environment in more than one way. They said the felling of these many trees will impact carbon sequestration and create urban heat zones. Not only that, they have stated that 14 freshwater lakes of Bengaluru and its surroundings will also be affected due to these projects and in the process compromise the existing water resource available. Other than that, they stated that part of the project also passes through the Bannerghatta National Park, as well as the Eco Sensitive Zone around the Bannerghatta National Park. “This will have an adverse impact on the natural habitats of several schedule 1 species of fauna such as Elephants, Tigers, Leopards and Slender Loris all listed under the Wildlife (Protected) Act 1972,” the petition stated.
In addition to environmental grounds, the petitioners said that the project does not satisfy the definition of “Sustainable Development” and was also not in line with India’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2031. Further non-disclosure of project related information amounts to infringement of Fundamental Right to Information, the petition stated.