Why should Ramanagaram pay for destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas?
|One of the oldest rock formations on earth faces threat|
BANGALORE: The magnificent rocks that form the landscape of the Handigundi reserve forest in Ramanagaram are 2.6 billion years old. Had the State Government been alert, it could have become a heritage monument under the UNESCO's World Heritage Convention 1972 to which India is a signatory.
But the Forest Department appears to be occupied with the task of mitigating the pain and sorrow of global Buddhists over the loss of the Bamiyan Buddhas; even if it means chipping away at one of the oldest rock formations on earth and destroying the last home of the Yellow Throated Bulbul, and the White Backed Vulture and introducing an alien economy on the largely agrarian community in the surrounding villages.
In its proposal-seeking grant of land and the rock site, the Sanghamitra Foundation says it wants to make it up to 300 million Buddhists around the world, for the wanton destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban in March 2001.
The project proposal submitted to the Forest Department by the foundation president, M. Ramesh, says: " ... .to compensate the loss of the monumental historical heritage at Afghanistan, by carving out a huge statue of Bhagawan Buddha in India, the country of his birth."
The foundation has as its chief patrons Sri Balagangadharanatha Swamiji of Adichunchanagiri Mutt and Samdhong Rimpoche, the Prime Minister in Kashag (the Tibetan Government in Exile, Dharamshala).
Department or postman?
The Forest Department has not sought the opinion of institutions such as the Geological Survey of India or the Mines and Geology Department, but acted like a postman, merely forwarding the grandiose proposal of the foundation seeking 4.05 hectares of forestland in Handigundi, Gopalapura village in Ramanagaram taluk.
All the "experts" who approved the rock, including the sculptor V. Ganapathy Sthapathy who has "approved" the rock in terms of vaastu, after the foundation "looked everywhere" for a suitable monolithic rock, have given their opinion to the foundation.
The department does not even think it necessary to wonder how the smartly packaged proposal "forgets" to mention what the foundation's website talks of a world religious centre that will come up over 2,000 acres.
"This place will be home to some of the finest architectures, including a string of monasteries, meditation centres, vast libraries, state-of-the-art facilities to cater to visitors and seekers of spiritual knowledge," says the website.
Indeed, the proposal has had a smooth ride from concept to the first stage "in principle" clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, as required under Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. The Forest Department has recommended clearance on the grounds that the "carving" of the statue is not a violation of the Centre's guidelines on disfigurement of rocks as there is no use of toxic paints that will seep into the soil and loosen the rocks.
Another official says the site has no valuable timber, and no wildlife to speak of, and the Secretary, Forests Ecology and Environment, has forwarded the proposal to the Minister of Environment and Forests.
The project is estimated to cost Rs. 15 crores.
Official sources admit that this can be a gross undervaluation of the project, which will mean the compensatory afforestation cost will reduce drastically too.
This is to be taken up on survey no. 169 of Lakkajanahalli at a cost of Rs. 54,200 per hectare.
The Conservator of Forests (Forest Conservation), Uday Veer Singh, said the project has been given preliminary consent, and once the State Government informs the Ministry of Environment and Forests of compliance with conditions, the final clearance will come through.
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