Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa’s plan of building a film city in one of the remaining lung spaces of Bengaluru, the ‘Roerich and Devika Rani Roerich Estate’ at Tataguni, has drawn the ire of several environmentalists and has been panned by the Opposition as well. JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy called the proposal ‘vindictive politics’ and said it would lead to human-wildlife conflict.
On Wednesday, the Karnataka Cabinet decided to take full possession of the estate land by fencing it and removing encroachments. “Roerich and Devikarani estate land of 468.33 acre is in the government’s possession. We have decided to get it measured, evict encroachments if any and fence it,” Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister J C Madhuswamy told reporters after the cabinet meeting.
Recently Yediyurappa announced the plan in his speech during the Founder’s Day celebration organised by the Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FKCCI) in the city. Interestingly, the announcement surprised not only the environmentalists but also concerned government organisations as they had no inkling of the film city plan.
The Roerich estate is spread over 460 acres of land out of which a hundred acres are maintained by the Forest Department. The estate belonged to Russian painter from the early 20th century Svetoslav Roerich and Devika Rani, the first lady of Indian cinema. The couple lived in this estate until March 9, 1994, when she passed away. Roerich died on 30 January 1993.
Since 1996, the estate has been under the control of the state government as the couple neither had any children nor had they willed the property to anyone. Karnataka government won a legal battle to take control of the estate. Though the government has formed the Roerich and Devika Rani Estate Board to maintain the property, it stands neglected.
According to the forest department officials, the estate is an elephant corridor between Bannerghatta and Savandurga. “The estate is in one of the rich natural habitats in the outskirts of the city, and locals have sighted wild animals in the area. We have seen the movement of leopards, barking deer, and there are peacocks in the area. All because of a forest and a lake inside the estate,” an official said.
“The estate was in a legal battle for many years, and now without the approval of the Supreme Court the land cannot be used for any other purpose,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
AN Yellappa Reddy, a noted environmentalist, said the state government’s plan of building a film city in Roerich estate should be dropped immediately. “The film city should not be constructed in this area since there is a need for protecting such biodiversity in the city,” Reddy said.
Earlier, the government had planned to build a museum, art gallery and various forest projects but nothing has happened so far. In 2015, the state government had spent Rs 2 crore to renovate the colonial-style home of the Roerich couple.
Meanwhile, former chief minister and JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy said the move would lead to human-wildlife conflict. HD Kumaraswamy said, “During my tenure, it was decided to construct the film city in Ramanagara district, which would have generated jobs in the district. But now building a film city at the Roerich estate will endanger the natural environment and will lead to human-wildlife conflict,” Kumaraswamy said.
Devika Rani was the first lady of Indian cinema, grandniece of Rabindranath Tagore and founder of Bombay Talkies, India’s first modern movie studio. Roerich was the son of Russian painter, archaeologist and theosophist Nikolai Roerich and an eminent artist himself. His portraits of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi continue to hang in the Central Hall of Parliament.
Apart from a colonial-style home inside the estate, a linoleum plant installed by the couple to extract scented lavender oil is also in bad shape. According to a security guard in the estate, the linoleum plant is located at a distance of 150 metres from the residence. The plant was constructed between 1955 and 1960 and had machinery imported from Germany.