Members of the Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP) and Let Us Do It! Mysore met Deputy Commissioner C Shikha and several officials concerned (from PWD, heritage, archaeology, MCC, Village Panchayat, Karnataka Pollution Control Board, and Forest) to discuss Chamundi Hill development projects on June 23.
MGP pointed out that according to Environmental Protection Act, projects where the expenditure is more than Rs 50 crore or the construction area is more than 20,000 sq. meters, a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required.
However, the government representatives argued that an Environment Management Plan (EMP) was sufficient. MGP expressed its dissent as EMP was less detailed, perfunctory and it would be carried out by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB.
KSPCB is an arm of the Karnataka Government and therefore there is a possibility of the study being less objective. What was evident from the discussion was that the project on top of Chamundi Hill was undertaken without a proper scientific study as has been commented several times.
Regarding widening of the road from City Centre to Mahishasura statue, Deputy Conservator of Forest V Karikalan (only one official supporting MGP view) informed the DC that the forest department has not given the permission and it was the Bengaluru office which has over-ruled them and gave permission.
The DC assured the MGP that no final decision has been taken on widening of the road and asked the PWD officials to come up with an alternate plan to reduce the use of forest land from proposed .98 hectares keeping to minimum disturbance of the hill.
MGP strongly argued against the construction of car parking building. Such buildings and associated traffic will have a huge impact on ecology of the hill. Further, this was not a long-term solution. Such a facility would become useless when the number of cars exceeded in the future.
It was clear from the official response that they have not studied the problem from a long-term point of view. A proper EIA would have given a better solution. The DC has asked PWD to undertake a comprehensive study to find out the real need for a car park.
During the months of Aashada when the number of visitors to the temple swells, the situation is successfully managed by banning all private vehicles and using public transport only. Why not do the same and save the destruction of the environment in the name of development?
To a question raised by the MGP regarding the burgeoning number of shops and eateries, the Village Panchayat officials informed that though they have given licenses to “only” 91 shops there are about 462 shops.
The DC instructed the officials that all unlicensed shops be removed forthwith. But more importantly, how did so many shops come up in the first place? Being a pilgrimage destination, the shops required should be Pooja related. As per Mysore Master Plan, there should be no such shops or any development near Chamundeshwari Temple.
Why has the Panchayat given licenses to 91 shops? The DC warned the village Panchayat that if any more licenses are given, she would recommend the government to take over its management.
Officials in charge of Heritage were not sure if the temple is declared a heritage building. MGP showed the relevant part of Mysore Master Plan according to which Chamundeshwari Temple is indeed a heritage. Then there was considerable discussion on up to what distance and from where (from the monument or from the boundary of the compound) to be measured to limit development within 100 meters. It looked as though the officials were trying to justify the construction and MGP felt differently.
It became clear that while MGP was advancing argument to show how any development will affect the delicate ecology of Chamundi Hill, officials were trying to show how they are complying with all environmental and heritage regulations.
We suspect that the government would not want to stop the works being carried out at this advanced stage of awarding the contract. Even the instructions given to stop the work till a study is carried out is at the most to temporarily appease the activists. But the real intent is to carry out the work irrespective of the harm and irreversible damage to the fragile ecology of the hill.