Turahalli: No scope to change a natural forest to a tree park

Forest and tree parks are two disparate landscapes with different activities and objectives. Natural forests are non-human centric while tree parks are completely human centric. Tree parks cannot be developed at the cost of natural forest. It takes thousands of years for a natural forest to grow and reach its climatic climax.

The Turahalli Minor Forest and other surrounding areas are part of the category of dry deciduous forest located at a height of about 850 to 900 meters from sea level. The forest is part of the protection-cum-improvement working circle.

One of the objectives of the management of this working circle is to protect, conserve and improve the existing forest, encourage the root stock to flourish, and improve soil and moisture conservation. The creation of a tree park at the cost of Turahalli forest would defeat the objective of the management and in turn violate the prescriptions of the approved working plan.

In this forest, the majority of trees are Eucalyptus. In August, Habenaria roxburghii orchids bloom, giving a brilliant white colour to contrast the green of the forest. The rocky terrains are great for lianas, the most common being Opilia amentacea. They bloom during the summer. These are mostly located in the Northern edge of the forest, surrounded by figs Ficus tinctoria, Syzygium cumini and rocks. The most common herb is the Byttneria herbacea, which blooms all through the year. Its flowers attract many beetles. Legumes, specifically Indigofera karnatakana, an endemic species, are found here, while Ixora Pavetta blooms during the summer. Over time, all these species will vanish except eucalyptus if a tree park is created.

A researcher, Ashwini Pradeep, a resident of Chillammana Kere, is writing his PhD thesis on diversity of birds on Turahalli Minor Forest. As per his assessment there are about 126 bird species including migratory birds and 60 species of flora including orchids are found in this forest. The assessment done by the Biodiversity board lists 22 tree and 44 shrub species and 13 herbs. This indicates a wide range of biodiversity in this dry natural forest. It is also to be mentioned that there are many earthen bandhs making demarcation of the survey number inside the forest. These bandhs are created during the first survey settlement and used for survey of the area.

Over 80-year history

On August 24, 1934, an area of 241.79 hectares located 20 km from the centre of Bengaluru off Kanakapura road notified as Turahalli Minor Forest under the then Mysore Forest Act, 1900. The Supreme Court in its landmark judgment dated December 12, 1996, in writ petition (WP) no. 202 of 1995, directed all the State governments in the country to work the forest area as per the working plans approved under the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980). In this regard, the working plan for the Bengaluru Urban Forest Division was written and approved in a 2015 order by the Central government, Ministry of Forest, Ecology and Environment and Climate Change for the period of 2013-14 to 2022-23 under Section-2 of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 subject to certain conditions.

Further, the State government issued an order for the said period and conditions. Any change or modification in the working plan rests with the Central government only. Turahalli has been in the news since 2006-07, when certain forged documents were created as if the area was non-forest land and it was granted to certain individuals by the then Maharaja of Mysore.

In 2006-07, some BDAs layouts were also formed in this forest area, which was subsequently removed and planting was done. This part of forest land is being developed to take the shape of a tree park though the land belongs to notified forest. As per the working plan, management of forest in the division is to maintain environment stability and ecological balance by adopting measures to protect, preserve and conserve the existing natural forest biodiversity of flora and fauna.

To achieve this, forest areas are to be protected by constructing compound walls all around to give full protection mainly from the entry of human beings since the forest areas are surrounded by massive human habitats. There is no scope to change a natural forest to a tree park under the approved working plan.

The writer is a retired IFS official.

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