Guest column: ‘A film city at Hesaraghatta will cause irrevocable damage’
Hesaraghatta has played a major part in the development of Bengaluru since the latter half of the 19th century. The bund across Arkavathy was built in 1895, making way for the 1,500-acre reservoir. It provided drinking water to the city for over 100 years. The reservoir was a picnic spot for citizens, and a boating and wind surfing arena for adventure seekers. It nourished the ground water for over a century.
In 1989, Hesaraghatta reservoir overflowed for the last time. Population increased and so did the need for water. Nobody thought about groundwater reserves, recharging or preserving the catchment, except for one man, Lakshmi Sagar. He was the urban development minister in Ramakrishna Hegde’s cabinet. When a township was proposed on the banks of Arkavathy, he did not give permission.
Catchment of Hesaraghatta reservoir/Arkavathy at Hesaraghatta is over 5,000 acres, most of which is owned by the government of Karnataka. A parcel of this land – measuring 345 acres is a grassland. In fact, it is the last remaining piece of grassland around Bengaluru.
If you went back in time to about 200 years ago, most of the area that now is the city was grassland/scrub jungle. This piece of land was sold to the Department of Animal Husbandry by the Maharaja of Mysore in 1942 for ₹10,000.
The State government had leased this land to Mysore Film Development Corporation (MFDC) in 1972 to build a film city. However, it didn’t materialise. MFDC was renamed Karnataka Film Development Corporation (KFDC) later on and sometime in the early 21st century, it closed down. The rights of this land were temporarily vested with Kanteerava studios, which used to rent out the area for Kannada film shootings. Almost all the units used to shoot in the area, and destroy and damage the area. We the local people had to go and clean up their mess.
By 2012, few people in the Kannada film industry started clamouring for a film city again. The Karnataka government opened tenders for the detailed project report on developing the area as a film city. The Arkavathy & Kumdvathy Nadi Punaschethana Samithi filed a PIL against the project in the High Court of Karnataka (WP 45759/2012).
GoK did not submit it’s objections and the HC dismissed the petition when the advocate general said in open court that the government will maintain the status quo till it took a decision on the status of the land. While closing the PIL, the honourable court also said, “It is needless to clarify that the petitioner or any other person having a genuine public interest in mind will have the liberty to approach the court as and when a decision in respect of utilization of the land in question is taken”
Subsequent to the PIL, the government decided to give the land back the department of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Services.
Apart from being the last remaining grassland and catchment of Arkavathy, the area is also the wintering ground for the birds of prey from northern India and Central Asia. A survey commissioned by the Karnataka Biodiversity Board had found it was home to over 130 species of birds, many mammals, and butterflies. And millions of insects, of course.
Some of the birds, mammals and insects found in the area are on the verge of extinction or critically endangered. This area is a large carbon sink for our city, and can be a powerful tool to mitigate climate change and counter the rapid urbanisation of Bengaluru. It is as fragile as the Roerich estate where the government wanted to establish the film city and then said they wouldn’t because of environmental concerns.
Sometime in 2012, I also started seeing the entire catchment as a unique habitat and that it needed to be protected from ‘development’. In collaboration with conservationist Ramki Srinivasan, biologist K.S. Sheshadri and ornithologist M.B. Krishna, a detailed proposal to declare 5,000 acres, including the lake bed as ‘Conservation Reserve’ under Section 36A of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, was drafted. We submitted it to the Karnataka Forest Department some time in 2013/4. The department carried out a survey and fixed the boundaries of the proposed reserve. It needs to go to the State Wildlife Board for approval. This step hasn’t happened.
The proposal has remained a proposal till today. The reason is that the Animal Husbandry Department hasn’t given it’s consent to this notification. In fact, they have given their objections in writing.
Ironically, if the government intends to go ahead with a film city, the department will not object.
A film city will irrevocably change the land use and landscape of the area. It will systematically destroy the ecosystem and the water security – whatever is left of it. It will congest the area as traffic will increase – at a time when Bengaluru can ill afford more congestion.
Mahesh Bhat is a photographer and filmmaker who has been working on preserving the Arkavathy catchment for over 15 years