31 March 2013
Security projects ‘violate’ green laws as they start work in Karnataka
By Dinesh C Sharma UPDATED: 01:25 GMT, 30 March 2013
In the name of national security, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) have ‘violated’ environmental laws by starting construction work on strategic projects in an ecologically sensitive zone in Karnataka, an environmental lobby group has claimed.
The BARC project is aimed at upgrading a classified ‘technology demonstration’ project involving the nuclear fuel cycle for both civilian and military use.
The facility is designed to meet “future requirements of upgraded fuel for power sector as well as for other strategic purposes”, according to the nuke agency.
The ecologically sensitive zone in Karnataka
The DRDO project will develop an aeronautical test range with dedicated airspace for testing of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs).
No environmental and forest clearances have been granted for the two projects which are coming up in Challakere taluk of Chitradurga district.
The area in which the two projects are coming up has been classified as grasslands and district forests.
The projects are part of a cluster of scientific projects coming up in the region. Together these projects will need around 10,000 acres of land.
The two agencies have admitted that they have already spent close to Rs 100 crore on the initial developmental work on the projects in the past two years.
BARC said: “Major construction activities will be carried out only after necessary clearance from the ministry of environment and forests and the Karnataka Pollution Control Board”.
On the other hand, DRDO claimed that no clearance is required as the test range is not a commercial airstrip and will not have a bunkering facility.
The agencies have been forced to reveal the information about the projects in the National Green Tribunal, where the projects have been challenged by Bangalore-based Environment Support Group.
The tribunal has not stayed work on the projects but has appointed a two-member committee to inspect the sites. “The experts will make an inspection of the land in question as also the ecological and environmental status and also the activities undertaken by the proponent and file a report, which would assist the tribunal to decide on the controversy”, the order said.
“Nuclear and defence agencies are invoking national security to cover up violation of environmental laws. None of the project proponents have complied with any of the mandatory environmental and forest clearance norms and standards”, Leo Saldanha, petitioner in the case, said.
He said the ecologically precious land had been given to different agencies at a cheap price of Rs 30,000 to Rs 35,000 per acre.
Besides DRDO and BARC, other projects coming up in the cluster include a new campus of the Indian Institute of Science and the satellite centre of the Indian Space Research Organisation.
The land allocated for the projects is the last remaining contiguous area of semi-arid grasslands ecosystem traditionally known as ‘Amrit Mahal Kaval’.
It is critical to a variety of flora and fauna including the threatened antelope species, critically endangered birds like Great Indian Bustard and Lesser Florican. In addition, inhabitants from 60 villages in the vicinity depend on the grasslands for their livelihood. The Kaval area had been designated as ‘district forests’ for protection under the Karnataka Forest Rules, 1969.
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