Monday, September 12, 2011

Karnataka High Court stops controversial Link Road construction through ecologically sensitive GKVK (Agricultural) University

In an unprecedented decision today, the Principal Division Bench of the Hon'ble High Court of Karnataka constituted by Chief Justice Mr. J. S. Khehar and Justice Mr. H. G. Ramesh have directed the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP-Bangalore's civic authority) to stop construction of the controversial Link Road (approximately 4 kms. long) through the biodiversity rich, ecologically sensitive and verdant forest campus of the Gandhi Krishi Vignana Kendra – University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore. The Hon'ble Court has directed the State Government to set up a Committee involving the Chief Secretary, Environment Secretary, representatives of the University, BBMP and Indian Institute of Science “for resolution of the controversy” based on the following finding:

Admittedly, no scientific ‘environmental impact assessment’ has been made relating to ‘the link road project’. In our opinion, it is hazardous to take any view in the matter in the absence of a clear scientific ‘environmental impact assessment’ by an expert body, relating to the link road project on the biodiversity of the University. If the ‘environmental impact assessment’ indicates that, notwithstanding any compensatory measures to minimise the pollution, the vehicular movement on the link road would result in irreversible damage to the biodiversity and the research programmes of the University, then the link road project may have to be cancelled in public interest and alternative solutions to ease the traffic in the locality have to be explored. On the contrary, if it were to indicate that the vehicular movement will have no adverse effect on the biodiversity and the research programmes, then the BBMP may be allowed to take steps in accordance with law to complete the remaining construction work of the link road.” (Emphasis supplied)

In so evolving the rationale for deciding development of infrastructure projects, the Hon'ble Court has taken cognisance of the fact that the Karnataka Government has declared the university campus as a Heritage Site under the Biological Diversity Act on 2nd September 2010. The Hon'ble Court observes that “(t)he information narrated in the above notification would show that the GKVK campus is one of the greenest areas in Bangalore having a rich biodiversity of 530 species of plants, 165 species of birds, 13 species of mammals and 10 species of reptiles.” Clearly, therefore, endorsing the critical importance for careful, scientific and comprehensive assessment of implications of building roads in ecologically sensitive areas.

The Court has recorded the fact that the road construction by BBMP took place without the consent of the University. It has also noted the submission of the Petitioners that “the major works standing committee of the BBMP has recommended for cancellation of the proposed link road and for return of the land to the University. It is stated that the BBMP major works standing committee, in its report, has opined that the link road project was misconceived, unnecessary and unscientific and has accordingly recommended to cancel the project and to return to the University, the 24 acres of land taken for construction of the link road”. The Petitioners' submissions that the project was conceived and implemented in gross violation of the Forest Conservation Act, Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act and Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act has been highlighted in the ruling. (Emphasis supplied)

This ruling implies that the Precautionary Principle, which is the basis for EIA studies, must guide decisions relating to infrastructure projects like road building. While the Environment Protection Act, in particular the EIA Notification, demands project development must be based on public consultation and EIAs, these statutory requirements are commonly flouted by urban authorities resulting in irreparable damage to the environment and seriously jeopardising the interests of project affected communities. This ruling now puts to rest any doubt that remained about the need for participatory, and ecologically and socially sensitive decision making of urban infrastructure projects.

This ruling is in a Public Interest Litigation filed by seven former Vice Chancellors of the University led by Dr. Dwarakinath, and others. Research and analysis in developing this PIL and advancing it in the High Court was substantively undertaken by Environment Support Group.

Leo F. Saldanha
Environment Support Group
and Party in Person in this PIL

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