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15 May, 2007

Campaign to save Tumkur's forests from destruction in the name of Tumkur University

A report by Murthy.T.V.N., Guru Prasad.T.V, Gundappa.B.V, Mallikarjun and Ameen Ahmed

Background of Tumkur University:
The setting up of a University in the City of Tumakuru (previously Tumkur) is a matter of pride for all us Tumakureans. It serves the long standing demand of people of Tumakuru region. Tumakuru District has a high concentration of Post-secondary colleges and University affiliated institutions. Many of these institutions impart outstanding education and students educated from them have made excellent careers in India as well as abroad.

Background of this issue:
Unfortunately some unscrupulous political elements are using the guise of this prestige of Tumakuru to further their own interests. The land for the University has been made a controversy by seeking to establish it in forest land.

The proposed place to establish the university has ranged from the Golahalli state forest to Devarayana Durga State Forest. As people representing nature lovers and seeking to protect the interest of our nation's forests, Wildlife Aware Nature Club (WANC) has all along been opposing diverting any forest land for non-forest purposes. This is in accordance with the Honourable Supreme Court's landmark decision in the Godavarman Thirumalpad vs Union of India case (dated 12/12/1996). WANC has been pleading with the authorities to establish the University in any convenient place away from forest areas.

Despite us regularly reminding the concerned authorities about the matter, the University authorities went ahead and occupied 300 acres of revenue forest on the periphery of Devarayana Durga State Forest adjoining Navodaya Vidyalaya near Janapanahalli along the Tumkur - Oordigere road.


A view of the dense forests of Devarayana Durga State Forest near the proposed University site

Background of Devarayana Durga State Forest:
Devarayana Durga State Forest was the first forest in the history of Karnataka (the erstwhile Mysore state) to be declared a state forest. It was done so in 1907. The forest is one of the last remaining near Tumkur city. It's bio-diversity is probably the richest of any forest in Tumkur District. The forest is home to more than 300 species of plants, 250 species of birds and a large number of butterflies and reptiles. The forest and its surrounding hills are even today home to a healthy population of leopard, spotted deer, Hanuman langur, blacknaped hare, sloth bear, jackal, common mongoose among others. The forest is home to the rare and endangered Yellowthroated Bulbul.
Apart from the actual state forest area, there are quite a few contiguous patches of land here, which belong to the Government (mainly revenue department) and have forest cover. It is important to conserve these forests also, as they have very similar habitat, are equally rich in wildlife and act as the state forest's buffer zone.

Another view of the dense forests of Devarayana Durga

Action by WANC:
When petitions and requests failed to give any results, WANC was left with no choice but to approach the H'ble Supreme Court. A petition was filed in the Apex court regarding this matter (Application Number 585, Wildlife Aware Nature Club vs State of Karnataka, Godavarman Hearing).

The matter was adjourned during the CEC hearing Dated January 18, 2004 as the Government of Karnataka failed to respond. Fortunately our plea was favourably heard. During the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) hearing on October 21, 2005, it was ordered that no tree felling and construction should take place in the said area.

The issue as it is today:
Though the H'ble Supreme Court referred to the entire 300 acres, only 225 acres has been vacated. The rest 75 acres has been fenced off and has remained in possession of the University authorities (see picture below). WANC has been forced again to seek the intervention of the H'ble Supreme Court. WANC has again written to H'ble Supreme Court regarding this issue.

A view of the encroachment fenced inside Devarayana Durga state forest by authorities of Tumkur University

The future:

Tumakuru lies in the south-eastern part of Karnataka state and is among the driest regions of India. Every tree counts and every inch of forest matters, as it is crucial to conserving the region's water sources and tapering the hot summers. Hence, it is crucial that we all fight to save this green cover. Atleast for our future generations, if not for ourselves...

Issue in the media:

1. Forest Case Update, Issue 17, October 2005

2. Government in a fix over granting land to varsity (The Hindu, Thursday, Jan 11, 2007)

3. Land identified for Tumkur University (The Hindu, Saturday, Aug 19, 2006)

4. Tumkur varsity starts hunt for land (PV Srinivasalu,Times News Network / The Times of India, 22 Sep, 2006)

5. Greens want debate on land granted to varsity (The Hindu, Thursday, Mar 10, 2005)

6. 65 acres of reserve forest may fall, thanks to varsity (The Times of India/Times News Network, Times City, September 5, 2001)