Buddha statue project dropped

The Hindu, Jan 18, 2006

The statue, which was to come up at Handigondi resides in an area that is habitat to several rare species of birds. It is home to sloth bears, hares and packs of jackals

Karnataka, Bangalore (India) -- The 700-foot tall monolithic Buddha statue planned to be carved out of the rocks at Ramanagaram by the Bangalore-based Sanghamitra Foundation, is not likely to materialise.

A year ago, the foundation held a major fund raising programme featuring Bollywood actors. When details of the statue project came to light, it was immediately opposed by environmentalists. The statue was to come up at Handigondi, where a number of these giant rock formations stand. The Bollywood blockbuster Sholay was shot around some of these rocks. For some it is a picnic spot, an easy drive from the city, and for others a place to study some unusual rock formations. The foundation had offered to buy 10 acres of land around the rocks.

The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests is reported to have withdrawn the permission given for the statue to be carved out. The Union Ministry has also asked the State Government to consider declaring the area a wildlife sanctuary.

The area around the rocky outcrops is habitat to several rare and endangered species of birds such as the White-backed Vulture, Yellow-throated Bulbul and the Shaheen Falcon. It is home to the sloth bears, hares and packs of jackals too.

The Bombay Natural History Society had some years ago conducted a survey of the Handigondi area and its rare birds and suggested it be declared a protected area. While re-examining the request for the Buddha statue project, the State Forest Department too discovered the rocks around Ramanagaram were a protected area where mining and other activities are prohibited.

In a communication to the State Government, the Union Ministry of Forests and Environment asked that permission given for the monolithic statue be withdrawn.

The State Government was also asked to consider declaring 10,000 acres in the area as a sloth bear sanctuary. If the area becomes a sanctuary, the rock formations, the birds and other animals and reptiles found there will also be protected. Wildlife photographers and trekkers will naturally have to seek permission from the Forest Department to get inside the protected zone. Of course, another film shooting may not take place there either. Unless it is a documentary on the rocks and the wildlife.