The range of Ramanagaram Hills, once referred to as Closepet Granites, are a younger set of coarse-grained potassic granites which form a chain of rounded bosses and domes running north-south, over a distance of 75 Km from south of Magadi till a little north of Kollegal and span over a width of nearly 25 Km from around Ramanagaram to the west of Kanakapura, represent a rock formations of great antiquity. These rocks formed during the Lower Proterozoic era, between 2600-2000 million years of geological history. These range of hills, unique to inland Karnataka, form one of the most picturesque features of the Indian landscape. They excel in grandeur and assume fantastic forms, form a part of the natural heritage of the state. Besides being a home to a large variety of flora and fauna, these hills together with their forest-covered slopes are of great ornithological importance.
But none of these factors had any bearing on the Government of Karnataka when they forwarded the proposal for clearance to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. The proposal claimed that only one rock would be carved out into the Sanghamitra Buddha, that being Handigondi. As this falls within the Handigondi State Forest area, the proposal sought permission to divert about 10 acres of forest land to non-forest purpose. There was a slight problem though as the Supreme Court had recently directed against defacement of rocks, given the many Coco Cola and Pepsi ads that were painted on rocks abutting highways in the Himalayan region. This was adequately taken care of by the District Forest Officer (Bangalore Rural) in his inspection report, who glibly stated that considering “it is carving a statue of international fame and away from highways and no paint is used for painting the rock… the guidelines regarding interference with the rock shall not apply to this case”. Clearly the officer did not consider dynamiting rocks such a big deal.
None of the senior officers reviewing the proposal checked this travesty. For instance the Karnataka Principal Chief Conservator of Forests forwarded the proposal as “there is no damage to the forest since tree cutting is not involved”. Further forwarding the proposal to the Ministry of Environment of Forests for final clearance, the Karnataka Principal Secretary of the Department of Forests, Ecology and Environment allowed the diversion of the forest land for carving the statue so long as “the legal status of the land shall continue to be forest land” and 10 acres of such land would be leased for a period of 15 years based on compensatory afforestation charges. Not one officer independently verified the project, beyond documentation submitted to them by the Foundation, and thus missed the big picture: that the project was over 2000 acres, not 10 acres for which permission was sought! A glimpse at the Sanghamitra Buddha Foundation website (www.sanghamitrabuddha.com) would have revealed “(T)he International Peace Center once complete will be the finest, comprised of the world's tallest statue of Buddha with an imposing height of 712 Ft, amidst 2000 acres of lush green scenic beauty and creative marvels.”
Despite many representations, the Government of India has remained silent, a silence that could well mean severely compromising critical conservation requirements under the Wildlife Protection Act, other statutes and many international threatened species and heritage conservation treaties. Needless to state there are also many other reasons why this geological marvel should be left to its elements for posterity: sloth bear, leopard, small cats, wild boar, snakes, and a wide variety of flora and fauna abound the Handigondi State Forest.
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