Diversion of Amrit Mahal Kaval Grasslands in Karnataka Affects Cattle, Pollutes Groundwater

Reported by

Elizabeth ManiLand Conflict Watch

Last updated on

October 8, 2021

Location of Conflict

Challakere

Chitradurga

Reason or Cause of Conflict

Defence and Security Establishments

Defence and Security Establishments

(

Eco-Sensitive Zone

)

People Affected by Conflict

30000

Land Area Affected (in Hectares)

4047

ha

Starting Year

2009

State

Karnataka

Sector

Infrastructure

Since they were appointed guardians of the Amrit Mahal Kaval grassland in Challakere in Chitradurga district by Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan, the agricultural and shepherding communities in the region have been preserving this ecologically important zone. They were given land here by the erstwhile rulers to cultivate on the condition that they look after the Amrit Mahal breed of cattle, which was of strategic importance in battles and, hence, in sustaining empires. These grasslands were intimately connected to the communities' culture and livelihoods. But the grasslands were never officially recognised by the Government of India, which denoted the commons (thousands of acres of grasslands available for common use) as degraded forests, stripping them of the protection accorded to forestlands. This made it easy for the government to divert these lands for developmental and industrial purposes without the need to set up forest rights committees or without seeking the consent of the Gram Sabhas. Since 2009, nearly 10,000 acres of the Amrit Mahal Kaval grasslands have been diverted to several strategic and defence institutions, such as the Defence Research and Development Organisation, Indian Space Research Organisation, Indian Institute of Science and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). The herding communities only became aware of the problem in 2011 when walls started to be built around the demarcated lands and they found themselves losing access to their grazing grounds. Before 2011, there were three lakh livestock in the 60 villages in the region. But once they started losing access to the grasslands, most of the herders were forced to sell their cattle as they were no longer able to feed them. The work undertaken by these organisations is also affecting the quality of life in the villages. A private solar company, which has been allocated 1,200 acres of land, has destroyed hundreds of check dams built inside the grasslands. This has dried up lakes. As a result, the population is now dependent on groundwater, which is allegedly contaminated with fluoride. The administration had subverted crucial laws, such as the Karnataka Land Revenue Act, 1964, to legitimise the diversion. The Act determines how many acres of grasslands are needed for certain breeds of cattle. The cattle census was also reportedly fudged. The number of cattle on paper was barely 10 per cent of the actual number, and it was demonstrated that the grasslands were in surplus, Leo Saldanha of the Bengalurubased Environment Support Group (ESG), which has been fighting for the protection of the commons, told LCW. When the village residents approached the Karnataka high court in 2011, their case was dismissed, and they were penalised a fine of INR 70,000. Their appeal was subsequently rejected by the Supreme Court too. When Saldanha approached the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the latter said the various ventures could go ahead, subject to stringent environmental clearances, considering there were plans by BARC to enrich uranium. The organisations had to comply with twostage clearances receive consent for establishing their industry as well as consent for conducting their operations. In February 2014, the NGT stayed all activity until the clearances were produced. While the parties maintained that they had the necessary clearance certificates, they refused to release them citing the Official Secrets Act, 1923. Petitioners like ESG then moved the Central Information Commission (CIC). In a landmark directive, the CIC noted that when it comes to the matter of lives and the environment, defence cannot be used as an excuse to deny information. Despite this, there continued to be resistance. "BARC gave us a twopage clearance copy with most of the information redacted," Saldanha said. With further appeals, the ESG could finally gain access to all the clearances almost 3,500 pages of documents. Another public interest litigation was filed challenging the diversion of 61 acres for the construction of canals under the Upper Bhadra project. The petitioner contended that the Amrit Mahal Kaval grassland is part of the conservation reserve notified under Section 36A of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, and cannot be allotted to Visvesvaraya Jala Nigam Limited for its project. In July 2020, the Karnataka high court ordered issue of notice. The case is ongoing.

Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Opposition against environmental degradation, Complaint against procedural violations, Demand to retain/protect access to common land/resources

Region Classification

Urban and Rural

Type of Land

Common

Type of Common Land

Forest and Non-Forest, Non-Forest (Grazing Land)

Total investment involved (in Crores):

Type of investment:

Year of Estimation

Has the Conflict Ended?

No

When did it end?

Why did the conflict end?

Categories of Legislations Involved in the Conflict

Other, Forest and Scheduled Area Governance Laws

Legislations/Policies Involved

Whether claims/objections were made as per procedure in the relevant statute

What was the claim(s)/objection(s) raised by the community? What was the decision of the concerned government department?

Legal Processes and Loopholes Enabling the Conflict:

Lack of legal protection over land rights

Legal Status:

In Court

Status of Case In Court

Whether any adjudicatory body was approached

Name of the adjudicatory body

Name(s) of the Court(s)

High Court of Karnataka

Case Number

W.P. Nos. 26144-26146/2012; O.A. 6/2014 (SZ), M.A.No.33 of 2014 (SZ); WP 8745/2020

Major Human Rights Violations Related to the Conflict:

Other harassment

Whether criminal law was used against protestors

Official name of the criminal law. Did the case reach trial?

Reported Details of the Violation:

Shepherds were stopped from accessing the grazing lands citing security concerns; a perimeter along the grassland was built in 2012.

Date of Violation

Location of Violation

Nature of Protest

Campaigns (Grassroots organisations/press releases/media), Complaints, petitions, memorandums to officials , Objections as part of official procedures , Protests/marches

Government Departments Involved in the Conflict:

District Administration of Chitradurga

PSUs Involved in the Conflict:

Did LCW Approach Government Authorities for Comments?

Name, Designation and Comment of the Government Authorities Approached

Corporate Parties Involved in the Conflict:

Did LCW Approach Corporate Parties for Comments?

Name, Designation and Comment of Corporate Authorities Approached

Other Parties Involved in the Conflict:

Resources Related to Conflict

  • News Articles Related to the Conflict:
  • Documents Related to the Conflict:
  • Links Related to the Conflict:
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Documented By

Elizabeth Mani

Reviewed By

Elizabeth Mani

Updated By

Elizabeth Mani

Edited By

Elizabeth ManiLand Conflict Watch
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