Stopping ‘Eco-Resorts’ In Their Tracks

by Akarsha BM

May 30, 2012: Based on a complaint filed by wildlife conservation NGOs, the Deputy Commissioner of Chikmagalur district in Karnataka cancelled the permission given to Satori Eco Adventure Resorts Pvt Ltd. for constructing resorts on Chandradrona hill in the Western Ghats. This cancellation is a significant milestone in the persistent battle by local conservation groups, WildCAT C and Bhadra Wildlife Conservation Trust, to halt commercial resorts in this tiger corridor connecting Bhadra Tiger reserve with adjoining forests.

Importance of the region

The Bababudangiri and Mullayanagiri hill ranges in Chikmagalur District comprise an offshoot of the Western Ghats. These hills fringe the Bhadra Tiger Reserve (BTR) and are a vital part of the wildlife corridor that connects BTR to Reserve Forests such as Udev, Churchegudda, Gangooru, Thimmapura and Yemme Dhoddi. Animals, including tiger, leopard, elephant, gaur and sambar regularly pass through and use this corridor. This landscape is also an important catchment area for several perennial streams that flow through BTR and are the tributaries of river Bhadra. Millions of people in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are dependent on this water.

Unfortunately, this hitherto undisturbed and verdant landscape now has permanent scars, with a mosaic of resorts defacing it. Not only do such resorts desecrate the natural beauty of the landscape, they also cause a tremendous loss of biodiversity. The construction of numerous resorts involves opening up of new areas, cutting trees, construction of roads, laying of power lines and pipelines, all of which lead to destruction, fragmentation and alteration of natural habitats, while obstructing the free movement of wildlife. These habitat changes will lead to intensified human-wildlife conflict over a period of time. Resorts also blatantly divert streams for their profligate water use, not only affecting wildlife, but also people living downstream.

Bhadra Wildlife Conservation Trust and WildCAT C, two two Chikmagalur-based wildlife conservation NGOs have taken on the fight to stop this threat of unsustainable ‘eco-tourism’. Their battle also has a larger perspective – to preserve the landscape from multiple other threats such as mini-hydel projects, and wind farms.

The recent success in halting construction of some tourist resorts has come as a shot in the arm. So far, thanks to the intervention by these two NGOs, the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Chikmagalur has cancelled land alienation and permission for some resorts in Chikmagalur — Avant Garde (at two locations), Wilderness, Cascade Hill Resort (by Brigade Group) and, more recently, the Satori Eco Adventure Resorts Pvt Ltd. As a boost to conservation efforts, the Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka has dismissed the writ petition filed by Satori Eco Adventure Resorts Pvt Ltd. challenging the DC’s order cancelling the land alienation

This case study by the two NGOs delves into how this was achieved.

Building a case against Satori Resorts

As a first step, the conservation NGOs sought to collect facts and information about the resort, and understand the environmental and ecological impacts. Certain basic facts were obtained from the resort itself, while others were obtained by filing Right To Information petitions.

The NGOs considered the scale of the proposed construction, its location, ecological sensitivity of the area and the overall socio-economic and cumulative ecological impact of unregulated ecotourism in this fragile landscape.

Bhadra Wildlife Conservation Trust (led by DV Girish) and WildCAT C (led by Shreedev Hulikere) then decided to take up the issue. In this we were joined by Mr. Girijashankar, Member, State Board for Wildlife, Karnataka.

The NGOs filed a complaint with the Deputy Commissioner of Chikmagalur district in April 2012.

In the letter, the group made it clear that the objection was not restricted to Satori Eco Adventure Resorts Pvt Ltd., but to all such commercial resorts, which are coming up in the Eco-Sensitive Zone of Bhadra Tiger Reserve and over the sensitive hill slopes of Bababudangiri, Kemmangundi and Mullayangiri hill range.

The conservation NGOs also wrote to various departments and officials, including the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, Karnataka, the Central and State Pollution Control Board, and the Water Resources Department, opposing all commercial resorts in this range

Salient details of the case:

Name of Resort: Satori Eco Adventure Resorts Pvt Ltd.

Location: Near Kavikal Gandi in the Mullayangiri–Bababudangiri hill range, within 2 to 5 kms from Bhadra Tiger Reserve.

Proposed built up area: 2768 sq mts, with an initial plan for 22 guest rooms, to be expanded to 60 rooms and other supporting amenities at a cost of Rs 15.30 crores

Freshwater requirement: According to the plan the fresh water requirement of the resort was about 68,57,000 litres (18,500 ltrs x 365 days) per year.

Power requirement: As stated in the single window clearance by the Karnataka Udyog Mitra, Govt. of Karnataka, Satori resorts has demanded 50 KVA power to be serviced by MESCOM. In addition, the resort also plans to install a 10 KV mini hydro power plant.

After obtaining this, and other basic information, Bhadra Wildlife Conservation Trust and Wild CAT C approached the Deputy Commissioner with a detailed written complaint. Consequently, the DC ordered a survey of the land alienation to be conducted by the Revenue Department. The findings of the survey revealed that Satori Resorts had encroached 2.05 acres of shola forest.

The conservation NGOs also filed an RTI with the DC’s office regarding permissions given for land alienation. Through this it discovered that the land alienation of 4.35 acres for construction of the resort was permitted in June 2008 under a single window clearance.

Other facts emerged too. It found that the land alienation was granted on 14-4-2009 under the condition that construction must be completed within three years. However, even by May 2012, the resort construction was not complete. Therefore the alienation permission had lapsed.

An RTI with the concerned Gram Panchayat office, and were informed that Satori Resorts had not obtained the requisite permission from them for using water for commercial purposes. According to the terms and conditions stated in the single window clearance by the Karnataka Udyog Mitra, Govt. of Karnataka, the Satori Resort is expected to make their own arrangement for water.

Throughout this fact-finding process,  the conservation NGOs were in constant dialogue with Forest and District officials to apprise them of the matter and enlist their support.

The NGOs held a series of interactions and site visits with relevant Forest Officials, ie., the Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF) and the Range Forest Officer (FRO), who understood, the gravity of the issue. The Chief Wildlife Warden, and the regional office of the National Tiger Conservation Authority were also apprised of the problem.

the intervention by the conservation NGOs, on 11th April 2012 the DCF, Chikmagalur Territorial Division wrote to the DC, Chikmagalur, objecting to the construction of Satori Eco Adventure Resorts Pvt Ltd. in its current location, giving the following reasons:

  • The location is ecologically sensitive, comprising Shola-Grassland ecosystem.
  • Fresh water streams flow through the area all through the year.
  • The location falls within 10 kms of the Eco Sensitive Zone of Bhadra Tiger Reserve.

The Forest Department also informed the Deputy Commissioner of Chikmagalur, that “the area where Satori Resort is being illegally constructed is highly sensitive located at an altitude of 1,632 meter above sea level with rolling topography where several streams originate. Any sort of constructions will affect the ecological sensitivity of the region”.

Action

Following this objection, the DC referred the matter to the Department of Mines and Geology. In their report, Senior Scientists of the Department of Mines and Geology indicated that the construction site of Satori Eco Adventure Resorts is rich in ores such as Quartz and Magnetite with unstable surface, which is highly prone to landslides, especially during monsoon.

Subsequently, a joint meeting involving DC Chikmagalur, Revenue Department, Forest Department and conservation groups was called on 4th May 2012 and again on 26th May 2012 to discuss the matter. The following points were considered:

  • That Satori Eco Adventure Resorts Pvt Ltd. had violated the conditions stated in the land alienation.
  • That it had not taken mandatory permissions for the use of flowing fresh water from the stream nearby for commercial purpose.
  • The fact that the forest (of 2.05 acres of shola forest) in the encroached area had already been cleared and concrete structures had been put up in violation of the Karnataka Land Revenue Act.

The letter from the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, Government of Karnataka dated 20th February 2012 about the adverse effects of construction of commercial, large scale resorts on the wildlife and environment in this region was also taken into consideration. The Mines and Geology department report was of particular relevance, and was given due consideration.

Taking into consideration the views of the Pollution Control Board, the Forest Department, the Department of Mines and Geology and local conservation groups, the DC of Chikmagalur, in his order no. A2 ALN 29/2007-08 dated 30-05-2012, has cancelled the land alienation of 4.35 acres in Survey no. 148/2 of ID Peeta village of Jagara hobli in Chikmagalur district (order no. A2 ALN 29/2007-8 dated 14-04-2009) for construction of a resort by Satori Eco Adventure Resort Pvt Ltd.

The construction work has halted. However, the Satori Eco Adventure Resort Pvt Ltd., filed a writ petition in the High Court of Karnataka on 10 July 2012 challenging Chikmagalur DC’s order cancelling the land alienation, and sought quashing of the order. The Hon’ble High Court in its hearing on August 03, 2012 has upheld the DC’s order and has dismissed the case.

‘Eco-Tourism’ and its impact

In the name of eco-tourism, several commercial resorts such as Satori Eco Adventure Resorts Pvt Ltd., Jahri, Mugila Mane, Green Woods, Malnad Meadows, Apna Sapna, Misty Mountain etc. have come up in the ecologically sensitive Bababudangiri hill range. Additionally, about 13 more are proposed to be built, and are awaiting permissions. One particularly worrying project is the KSS resort. With an investment of 40 crores and a capacity of over 100 rooms, this resort is already at an advanced stage of construction within a mere two kms from the boundary of Bhadra Tiger Reserve. The others are located less than 10 kms from the boundary of Bhadra.

One major concern is the flow of fresh water, which is obstructed when streams are diverted. Most of the resorts either block or divert the flow of fresh water streams–which flow through Bhadra Tiger Reserve — on the higher reaches of the hills, to meet their commercial needs. Thereby, the fresh water ecosystem is increasingly being affected; the reduced water flow will alter the vegetation type downstream and reduce the water availability for agriculture and basic sustenance of people’s livelihoods.

While the resorts claim that the ground water table is recharged through rainwater harvesting, this is rarely done, as it involves an additional cost to bring the ground water to surface through digging borewells, open wells, and pumping.

Water pollution due to release of soap water, grey water, swimming pool water and other wastewater from the resorts located on top of the mountain into the fresh water streams is also a major problem.

Evergreen shola forest and grassland are being cleared both in public and private lands, and resorts are altering the land use pattern by taking up large-scale land excavation and construction, which destabilize the fragile slopes.

To ensure free movement of tourism-induced traffic, road widening is being done even where the soil is loose, resulting in massive landslides, especially during the monsoon, permanently damaging the landscape, and leading to run off and erosion.

Lessons from other reserves

Eco-tourism has a critical role to play as wildlife tourism continues to grow in India at about 15 per cent annually in PAs (Karanth et al 2010). Tourism is a double-edged sword — it can help build a powerful constituency for wildlife, or create destruction and damage. In its present form, the wildlife tourism sector in India is largely ill-managed, intrusive, and unsustainable, putting immense pressure on Protected Areas and blocking vital wildlife corridors.

The impact of unregulated and unscientific eco-tourism is evident in reserves such as Corbett, Ranthambore and even hill stations like Ooty, Munnar, and Kullu-Manali. The case of Corbett Tiger Reserve is well-documented, where a slew of high-end tourism resorts have blocked crucial tiger and elephant corridors; bad tourism practices have altered habitats, disturbed local wildlife, depleted water sources, and cause noise and water pollution. The impacts on wildlife have been disastrous. In other reserves like in Bhadra, the problem is an emerging one — and fast getting out of control. Unless we nip the problem right now, it is likely to grow to monstrous proportions and become a serious threat.

Reference: Karanth K Krithi and DeFries Ruth, 2010. Nature-based tourism in Indian protected areas: New challenges for park management. Conservation Letters 00 (2010), 1-13.

About the author

Akarsha BM
Akarsha BM is a Senior Conservationist with Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS) and is based in Chikmagalur. He coordinates conservation, research and training activities in Bhadra-Kudremukh region of Malenad-Mysore Tiger Landscape in Karnataka.

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