After tossing around several locations for the Film City project for the Kannada film industry, the axe finally fell on the eco-sensitive zone of Hesarghatta, the last standing grassland on the outskirts of Bengaluru.
The Karnataka State Wildlife Board, last month, rejected the proposal to convert Hesarghatta into a conservative reserve as demanded by ecologists and several forest officers considering the rich flora and fauna of the region. This in a way paves way for setting up of the film city in the vicinity.
The development comes close on the heels of the government laying hands on another controversial project of a tree park in Turahalli forest, in Bengaluru, which has temporarily halted after protests from citizens.
The forest department and the animal husbandry department in 2013-14, jointly chalked out a proposal to declare the 5,010-acre land as a conservative reserve located in the northwest of Bengaluru.
The grassland also forms part of the catchment area of the Arkavarthy river, a water source to meet the water requirement of the burgeoning city of Bengaluru.
Besides, the grassland is home to raptors, including the migratory red-necked falcon, reptiles like the red sand boa, schedule-1 species (as per Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972) like the Lesser Florican and the Indian Leopard. It is home to over 200 species of birds, 400 species of insects and butterflies.
Yet the grassland remained outside the purview of the protected area network of Karnataka. The new film city project proposal poses a severe threat to biodiversity in the grassland. The current government overlooks all the ecological aspects for the development project even as conservationists red-flagged the proposal.
“After a prolonged wait, the project is moving closer to reality. Deputy Chief Minister Ashwath Narayan assured us that the land allocation of 150 acres will resume in a couple of months. And another 170 acres will be allotted to it in the second phase,” R Jayaraj Gubbi, president of Karnataka Film Chamber Of Commerce (KFCC) said.
Without a film city of its own, the Kannada film industry largely depends on other films like Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad, MGR Film City in Chennai, and a couple of other big studios in Mumbai. The film industry members feel a film city within the state can help producers cut costs considerably.
With the COVID-19 pandemic inducing stress across industries, and as the film industry limps back to normalcy after suffering nearly ₹1000 crore loss, the stakeholders feel it is time to push the government to speed up the film city project proposal.
Back in September 2012, a group of concerned citizens led by photographer, Mahesh Bhat, initiated an online petition campaign, approached the High Court, and even appealed to the then Chief minister to not hamper the ecosystem by diverting the land for development projects. The Court had ordered to maintain the status quo until further orders.
Mahesh feels the government is exploiting the area for real-estate value owing to close proximity to Bengaluru. Besides, the Principal Secretary to the Government then clearly recommended not subjecting the grasslands to any development project.
Also, Dr S Yathiraj, former dean of the veterinary college in Bengaluru had said any form of increased human activity in this area will be a great threat to the breeding activities and suggested the grasslands should be left undisturbed.
In the late 80s, the then Chief Minister of Karnataka, Ramakrishna Hegde, promised to set up a film city for the sandalwood (Kannada film) industry in Hesarghatta. Three decades on, the proposal remained merely on paper. Though the film industry time and again rekindled the demand to set up a film city with the state, the location for the project remained a political gamble for politicians.
Three Chief Ministers over the last three years preferred locations to suit their political interest. Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah during his chief ministership preferred to set it up in Himmavu, near Mysuru, falling under Varuna constituency, which he represented twice and is now led by his son Yathindra. Siddaramaiah said it was as per the wishes of yesteryears late actor Dr. Rajkumar. But after Congress lost in the 2018 elections, the plan was shelved.
Then the coalition government headed by H D Kumaraswamy (JDS) proposed to set it up in Ramanagara, a JDS stronghold. He said moving closer to Bengaluru would help the industry. But after the coalition government fell and BS Yediyurappa (BJP) took over, he assured to set it up in Tataguni Estate in Bengaluru, which belonged to eminent painter Svetoslav Roerich and late actor Devika Rani. But that again faced criticism as it was also under the “eco-sensitive zone”.
Now, with backing from Deputy Chief Minister Ashwath Narayan and other legislators in the Yediyurappa cabinet, the government seems to be closing in on Hesarghatta as a final location for the film city project.