A view of Tataguni Estate. DH FILE PHOTO

Govt on the horns of dilemma over Tataguni

Wednesday, 14 March 2012 04:07

Art lovers have to wait a little longer, as govt is yet to decide on converting estate into cultural centre.

Artists and art aficionados may have to wait a few more months to set foot in the Tataguni Estate of the late Russia-born artist Svetoslav Roerich and his actress-wife Devika Rani, as the government has not yet finalised plans for its development.

The estate, which has thousands of trees, including Bursera, a rare variety, had always been out of bounds for the public. In 2004, it was thrown open to the public for a couple of days on the occasion of its centenary celebrations. In August last year, the Supreme Court upheld the legislation of the Karnataka government to take over the movable and immovable properties belonging to the Roerich couple. Despite the favourable verdict, the government is dillydallying on making the estate a hub of art and cultural activities.

The Roerich and Devika Rani Roerich Estate Board, which enjoys the ownership rights over the estate, is now in a quandary over the development and maintenance of the estate with the advocate general not favouring the handing over of the estate to the Forest Department.

The Board headed by Chief Secretary S V Ranganath had constituted a sub-committee to draw up plans for the effective development of the estate. The sub-committee headed by Additional Chief Secretary Kaushik Mukherjee on October 1, 2011, had recommended that of the 468.33 acres in the estate, 25 acres each be “handed over” to the Horticulture Department and the Kannada and Culture Department, to develop a ‘Rose Garden’ and an ‘Ultra Modern Museum’, respectively.

The rest of the area should be notified under Section 4 of the State Forest Act as a reserve forest, the committee had suggested. The sub-committee felt it was necessary to declare the area, which also houses an elephant corridor, as a forest to ensure long-term protection and avoid encroachments.

Subsequently, Ranganath had referred the matter to the then Advocate General B V Acharya seeking his opinion on the recommendation. Acharya, however, struck down the idea stating it would only be unfavourable to the government in later years, if at all it planned to take up any developmental works in the estate. He said it would be unwise to “hand over” 50 acres to the two departments.

When contacted, Acharya told Deccan Herald he had given his opinion based on the past experiences of the State government.

Unwanted restriction

“If an area is once declared a reserve forest even under the local law, not an inch of that land can be used at a later stage for non-forest purposes. It is a long process. Even if the government were to set up a Roerich-Devika Rani University, for instance, in future, it will have to seek permission under Section 2 of the Central Forest Conservation Act. Declaring the estate a reserve forest is nothing but an unwanted restriction. I found it is not necessary to take such a drastic step that ties our own hands down,” he added.

He said if encroachment was an issue, it could be avoided by taking necessary precaution and posting security around the entire estate. He said the Board was not vested with the authority of handing over the land to anybody, including the government departments. “As per the final orders of the Supreme Court, the ownership title should remain with the trust – it has the ultimate control.

The departments can only be entrusted with the responsibilities of developing projects,” he added.
Mukherjee, who is preparing his opinion to be submitted to the Board, said the AG’s opinion was not a deterrent to his proposal.

“Just because it cannot be declared a reserve forest, it does not mean it cannot be maintained as a forest. Our aim is to protect the area and the forests, and we will have to do it responsibly,” he said.

Sources in the Board said it was decided that the matter should be placed before the Cabinet, as there are “conflicting views”.

They said some members felt it was better to declare the area a reserve forest, as mere fencing would not help matters.

For, in the past, many trees were illegally felled, despite the government deploying heavy security to man the estate.

Ashwini Y S,Bangalore, Mar 13,2012, DHNS

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