INOX Landslide: The real story
When the much awaited movie on extinct reptiles “Jurassic World” had released, not many Manipalites would have realised that they were watching it sitting in a place made by destroying the habitat of a few reptiles themselves. In the last month INOX cinemas at Manipal has been the hot topic of debate, not because it is built in a valley that was once a hotspot of endemic species but because of the landslide that occurred recently.
The cinema hall has been built in the V-shaped valley by cutting down trees and caving the hill at the middle. The pipeline which carried water was blocked which resulted in a leakage, ultimately scooping out a part of the access road. Now, queries seem have started coming up regarding not only the theatre’s resumption, but also its stability and environmental clearance. Along with these arises a question about the safety protocols that should have been followed to avoid such disasters.
When asked about the environmental clearance, Rajshekar P, Environmental Officer, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), Manipal said, “The INOX has not taken a clearance from our department. However, our clearances are confined to only sewage treatment and the pollution of environment bodies. Currently, our primary focus has been only on the industries and not any commercial build-ups. Any construction that exceeds the area limit of 20,000 square meters needs to have environmental clearance. This is what we have even been told by the state government.”
However, the Municipality’s answer comes as a sharp contrast to that of KSPCB’s, making things about the environmental clearance unclear. When asked to comment on the clearance, Ganesh, a staff in the civil engineering department of the municipality said, “Yes. They have taken all that. But, I don’t think there was any environment there. It is a hill and water is flowing there for the past 100 years. The slide has happened in the private property. The concerned person has cut the highway and diverted the stream as well. Only if things get serious, the municipality shall enter. The DC has issued a letter to inspect the other buildings. The leakage in the water pipe has caused all this. Moreover, it is not a forest land but a private land”.
When asked for proof of the environmental clearance taken, he refused to disclose the details, citing them as information about private property. The District Commissioner Vishal R refused to comment on the issue.
Giving details on the repair work, Bhaskar, a guard at the site said that there shall be a box like structure built, through which the stream shall pass and that it shall take around one and a half month to get things ready for a restart. The access road shall be re-laid over the box, which is expected to bring down the risks of such disasters happening. But the fact that it is almost impossible to bring back the lost jungle cover still remains, and shall continue so on.
The infrastructure of the access road adds to the ambiguity on the clearance, provoking questions on the study made about the soil and the area itself. The entire complex is held by the soil that was deposited there by machines.
Giving a detailed insight into the construction, Phani Raj, a civil engineering staff in the Manipal Institute of Technology (MIT) said, “Before bringing in drastic changes to the ecosystem through buildings like these, you need a meticulous plan on how to restore the balance. The access road has been built on a steep slope by filling the area with laterite soil. The flatter the slope, lesser are the chances of such slides happening. So, in order to hold the soil, one needs to build retaining walls on either side which is the safest way to prevent the soil from slipping. In order to drain the excess water away, weep holes are made on the retaining walls. But here the wall itself has not been built.”
“The entire place was a natural drainage system. The stream drains into the valley. During the rainy season there used to be a waterfall which is where the building has been built now. A bridge would have been a better allowing the stream to flow and the scene from the bridge would have added to the beauty of the valley”, he added.
With such speculations revolving around this building, it is clear that the entire approach towards our environment seems corrupted with the ownership of the land and commercialization being given the first preference. The currently parched Kundelkad valley used to support the lives of different species of animals, birds and reptiles. The laterite landscape is enriched with abundant flora and fauna that blends both the Ghats and the coast.
A decade ago, it was only the 35 year old Bacchus-Inn that stood in front of the 40-50 feet deep evergreen valley. The paddy fields and vegetable farms that were once watered by the stream have ceased to exist with time.
Describing the transition that has taken place, Ramit Singal, a renowned bird watcher and a former MIT student said, “Geologically, this region is unique. Things have changed a lot now. Buildings have come up. Manipal was rich in endemic species. With increasing population, human disturbance, pollution and construction, these species have left the place. When we used to come up to Manipal from Udupi we used to see Langurs, Hornbills and Lion Tailed Macaques. Wildlife was very common then. Earlier I would have to just get out of the hostel to see 50 different species of birds but now I have to walk at least 3 kilometres to see the same number”.
Globalisation has become a common issue today that needs to be addressed in the most sustainable way. Once the composition of an ecosystem has been disturbed, there are hardly any chances of reclaiming it and the Kundelkad region is not an exception. Shutting or bringing down the already existing buildings there shall never be an ideal solution to this whole problem.
Kudelkad has already started its journey towards extinction. It is in the hands of the authorities and the public, to sustain the ecology that Manipal is renowned for.
An RTI application has been filed to unearth the story behind the environmental clearance and we are awaiting a reply from the authorities.
Edited by Antara Krishnamurthy