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Deccan Herald » Front Page » Detailed Story
The elusive Buddha smile
By Vijayalakshmi K P N
DH News Service Bangalore:

A question hangs over the Rs 5 crore that the Sangamitra Foundation had collected towards carving out the Buddha statue at Handigundi.
It is victory for the Greens. The Sangamitra Foundation’s plans to carve a Buddha statue in Handigundi, near Ramnagaram may not materialise after all. For, the State Government has written to the Ministry of Environment and Forests to withdraw the approval given for diversion of forest land in Handigundi to facilitate the carving of the statue.

In its letter written a couple of days ago, the Department of Forest, Ecology and Environment has stated that forest land should not be diverted for the statue project. Speaking to Deccan Herald, the Department Principal Secretary, Mr K M Shivakumar said, “We have written to the Ministry of Environment and Forests seeking withdrawal of the approval for diversion of forest land in Handigundi to facilitate the carving of the statue”.

The Sangamitra Foundation had sought the State’s permission to carve a 712-foot tall Buddha statue on the west face of the Handigundi monolith near Ramnagaram.

“As for the statue per se, the foundation would have to take the permission of the Mines and Geology Department. But now that we have objected to diversion of forest land, it cannot happen because the rock is located in the forest area,” he added. Meanwhile, the foundation is said be going ahead with the project in full swing. It is said to have paid around Rs 33 lakh to the forest department for the 4.5 hectares of land it had sought, in compliance with the earlier clearance.

It had even staged a show, ‘Temptation 2005’, through which it reportedly grossed around Rs 5 crore towards funding the project.

However, repeated efforts by this paper to get in touch with the foundation for its response were futile.

Severe criticism

The Buddha project had come in for severe criticism ever since it got ‘in principle clearance’ from the State Forest Department, which was accused of not researching into the ecological impact of the project or of its effect on the local habitation.

And even as clearance was given for diversion of forest land, mountaineers and nature enthusiasts pitched in to protest what they termed was “defacement of the rock”. They submitted a petition to the Principal Chief Conservators of Forest seeking a review of the entire project from the point of view of environmental conservation.

Following the protests, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) A K Varma and Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (General) R M Ray inspected the area and submitted a report recommending that it should be left untouched as it is home to rare species of flora and fauna. It also said that the area could be made a sanctuary given that it was home to rare species of birds like the yellow-throated bulbul and the white-backed vulture, apart from the sloth bears.
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