Submitted by alvin on Wed, 2016-10-05 13:51 Mysuru: Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s ambitious plan to develop Chamundi Hills temple on the lines of Tirupathi is being viewed as detrimental to the ecological hotspot in Mysuru. Despite protests, Siddaramaiah laid foundation stone to various projects that include multi-level park for 600 cars, shopping complex to house 116 shops, guesthouses, road widening for four-lane and such. In fact, in the name “development”, the Siddaramaiah government seems to be hell bent on destroying the pristine Hill. The project is expected to be completed by October, 2017. Chief Minister’s intent to turn Chamundi Hills to Tirumala is totally ridiculous when they are totally different in terms of ecology and size. Mysoreans will be heart-broken to see their favourite icon being vandalized. Here are a few questions that the government needs to answer. 1. Do we need a four-lane on Chamundi Hill when the real alternative is to stop the use of private vehicles? - During Ashada month buses ply from the foot of the hill to the top. According to CM, widening of the road will address accidents and deaths on Chamundi Hill. However, facts give a different story. From 2010 to 2016, there have been just on average 10 accidents per year and total fatalities were only five. Even these could have been avoided if the drivers had followed traffic discipline. Besides, under the Forest Conservation Act, no more than one hectare forest land can be diverted for road construction. And even then, only when there are no other ways to avoid widening and the forest department has given its approval, only then forest land can be converted. In this case, the government did not get the approval from the local forest officials for 0.98 hectare of land conversion. Yet, the road widening projects are on. 2. Do we need a multi-level parking to accommodate increasing traffic? - Answer to this is an emphatic no. As mentioned above when tourists and worshippers can reach hill by buses (which can be CNG or electric for reducing the pollution on the hill) there will be no need for an expensive parking facility on the hill. Why did the government fail to consider such an eminently sensible alternative which has been successfully tried as explained above? 3. Why do we need a shopping complex on the hill when Mysuru has all the shops to meet the requirements of tourists? - Should we encourage shopping in a reserve forest. Since 1929, Chamundi Hill complex has been declared as a reserve forest. This seems to be an inconvenient truth to the GOK which is determined to spend money. An interesting situation has developed on the hill. First the authorities forced the closure of one set of illegal shops by promising the owners alternate shops when the shopping complex is built. Now, to ensure their legacy right, another set of shops (more than 460 when only 91 licenses have been issued) have come up all over the place around the statue of Mahisasura. Why did the authorities keep quiet in both the occasions. Rule of law be damned seems to be the mantra of village panchayat too. The hill looks more like a large shopping mall rather than a temple area. Earlier, there were attempts to build rope way to attract more tourists. Then a project to provide canopy on the steps leading to the top of the hill was mooted. Thanks to the protest by Mysore Grahakara Parishat and other NGOs, both these were dropped before any harm was caused. Building a shopping complex will be just a starting point. It is similar to a camel entering the Arabian tent. What the government is doing today on 8.3 hectares of ‘private land’ will end up expanding into other areas of Chamundi. There is every chance of the hill being converted into non-reserve forest area. According to studies, there are hundreds of rare medicinal plants (442 species of flowering plants) and rare species of birds (by one estimate 150). One can also see wild animals like leopard. With the development underway, it is likely to be a death knell for the flora and fauna of Chamundi. Activists led by Mysore Grahakara Parishat had written to the then Central Minister, Javdekar asking him to take back the permission to allow construction on the hill. It has not resulted in any action. When the activists contacted the state minister of Ecology, Forest and Environment he feigned ignorance. 4. Do we want Chamundi to be a pilgrimage centre or a tourist centre? - In a reserve forest with limited area for expansion in a legal way we do not have the luxury of both. What is the compelling logic to develop Chamundi as a tourist area? Mysore has sufficient number of sites of tourist interest. There is no need to convert a biological hotspot into a tourist spot. Chamundi has a history of over 1000 years with a rich heritage. Chamundeswari temple and 1000 steps to reach the top of the hill was constructed during the rule of Dodda Devaraja in mid 17th century. When the hill has such an enchanting history, why convert it into a tourist centre? Why not maintain the tranquility of the place by not allowing any shops (at the most two or three small shops to sell pooja materials) so that those who come there will have a chance to reflect on spiritual things rather than be distracted by the noise and bustle of the city. 5. Finally, why should the on-going construction cost Rs 80 crores? - Does it really cost such a huge amount to construct simple parking space, an ordinary shopping complex, providing queuing facilities to pilgrims, and guest houses? It is also natural to conclude that the potential of getting part of the contract may be the driving force behind the project and not the so called development. Any responsible government would have made an effort to understand the situation in view of protests. Celebrated author SL Bhyrappa’s appeal to drop the project through an article in the media seems to have had no impact on the sensitive chief minister. Mysore Grahakara Parishat, the NGO which has been leading the protest has approached the Chennai Branch of National Green Tribunal requesting to stop the work. Unfortunately, NGT returned the case on some bureaucratic grounds. Instead, the government should develop Chamundi Hills in a sustainable way than boosting commercial activities 1. The government should hand over the administration to district authority since the village panchayat has failed to take care of the Hills. 2. To coordinate different departments like muzurai, forest and village panchayat, there should be one agency, a Chamundi Hill Authority. 3. Since the hill is a Reserved Forest, a long-range plan to make Chamundi hill a green-hill with massive tree plantation programme should be undertaken. 4. To preserve the flora and fauna, a comprehensive study should be carried out. 5. Hill should be developed as a sacred place for pilgrimage, and not as a tourist centre. 6. Projects like multi-level parking, shopping complexes, guest houses, widening of the road, etc., atop the Chanmundi hill should be dropped. 7. Movement of private vehicles, including that of VIPs, to the top of the hill should be banned and parking facilities created near the foothill. 8. The practice of providing public transport from the foothill to the top during Aashada months should be made permanent. CNG or Electric buses should be put into use. 9. Multilevel parking with facilities should be made available at the foothill. 10. All illegal structures atop the hill should be demolished forthwith. 11. Persons / families whose earnings are affected due to reduction of tourism activities on the hill should be compensated. Author: Dr. B V Shenoy:Dr Shenoy graduated from IIT Madras with a B Tech in Mechanical Engineering in 1965 and MS in Industrial Engineering from IIT, Chicago, and PhD in Business Administration from the University of Houston. His schooling was at the S V S School, Bantwal, Karnataka, where he stood first in SSLC in 1959. Publications: Authored a book, ’Save Mysore’ with 85 pictures. Has Environmental Bomb Exploded? Leadership Crisis in India. Consumer Movement: What are Your Rights and Responsibilities? Decline and Fall of Mysore: Who is Responsible? India’s Energy Crisis. Co-author of the book, ’India: A People Betrayed’. Co-authored Oil and Gas journal articles on politics and economics of oil and gas pipelines in the Caspian. Published hundreds of articles on various topics in Indian newspapers and journals.