High Court stops costly BBMP bungle: University link road

A two year legal battle over the risks of constructing a link road through the GKVK (Agricultural) university campus, now a biodiversity heritage site in north Bangalore, ended with environmentalists winning.

In an unprecedented decision on September 12th, the Principal Division Bench of the Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka constituted by Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice H G Ramesh directed the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to stop construction of the controversial link road (approximately 4 kms. long) through the biodiversity rich, ecologically sensitive and verdant forest campus of the Gandhi Krishi Vignana Kendra – University of Agricultural Sciences, in north Bangalore.

Citizen resentment peaked in 2009 before the battle spilled over into the courts. Citizens protesting outside GKVK campus on Bellary Road in 2009. File pic: Save GKVK movement.

The court directed the state government to set up a committee involving the Chief Secretary, Environment Secretary, representatives of the University, BBMP and Indian Insitute of Science "for resolution of the controversy". The court based its ruling on the following finding:

    "Admittedly, no scientific ‘environmental impact assessment’ (EIA) has been made relating to ‘the link road project’. In our opinion, it is hazardous to take any view in the matter in the absence of a clear scientific ‘environmental impact assessment’ by an expert body, relating to the link road project on the biodiversity of the University. If the ‘environmental impact assessment’ indicates that, notwithstanding any compensatory measures to minimise the pollution, the vehicular movement on the link road would result in irreversible damage to the biodiversity and the research programmes of the University, then the link road project may have to be cancelled in public interest and alternative solutions to ease the traffic in the locality have to be explored. On the contrary, if it were to indicate that the vehicular movement will have no adverse effect on the biodiversity and the research programmes, then the BBMP may be allowed to take steps in accordance with law to complete the remaining construction work of the link road."

In so evolving the rationale for deciding development of infrastructure projects, the Hon’ble Court has taken cognisance of the fact that the Government of Karnataka declared the university campus as a heritage site under the Biological Diversity Act on 2nd September 2010. The Hon’ble Court observes that "(t)he information narrated in the above notification would show that the GKVK campus is one of the greenest areas in Bangalore having a rich biodiversity of 530 species of plants, 165 species of birds, 13 species of mammals and 10 species of reptiles."

This ruling came over a Public Interest Litigation filed by seven former Vice Chancellors of the University led by Dr Dwarakinath, and others.

In ruling this way, the court has endorsed the critical importance for careful, scientific and comprehensive assessment of implications of building roads in ecologically sensitive areas.

The court has also recorded the fact that the road construction by BBMP took place without the consent of the university. It has also noted the submission of the petitioners that "the major works standing committee of the BBMP has recommended for cancellation of the proposed link road and for return of the land to the University. It is stated that the BBMP major works standing committee, in its report, has opined that the link road project was misconceived, unnecessary and unscientific and has accordingly recommended to cancel the project and to return to the University, the 24 acres of land taken for construction of the link road".

Some damage already done

In June 2007, BBMP originally proposed a 9 km long (100 feet in width) road, to connect the Yeshwantpur-Yelahanka expressway to Bellary Road (NH 7). The link road was to begin at the main entrance to the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) at Bellary Road, cut through prime forestland and end at the Yeshwantpur-Yelahanka Expressway.

Around 680 trees had already been felled by 2009. More.

The petitioners’ submissions that the project was conceived and implemented in gross violation of the Forest Conservation Act, Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act and Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act has been highlighted in the ruling.

This ruling implies that the precautionary principle, which is the basis for EIA studies, must guide decisions relating to infrastructure projects like road building. While the Environment Protection Act, in particular the EIA Notification, demands project development must be based on public consultation and EIAs, these satutory requirements are commonly flouted by urban authorities resulting in irreparable damage to the environment and seriously jeopardising the interests of project affected communities.

This ruling now puts to rest any doubt that remained about the need for participatory, and ecologically and socially sensitive decision making of urban infrastructure projects.

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