Bangalore, April 27: A village called Ramanagar near Bangalore which shot to fame in Sholay as Ramgarh will soon become a holiday resort, if the Karnataka government overcome objections from nature activists and forest department officials.
Ananthara Resorts, a hospitality company, plans to build a commercial resort that will have Sholay as its theme on the location where the epic film was shot 35 years ago.
"It will be a stylish resort with 24 rooms, health club, spa and swimming pool on 6.78 acres of land," explained G Ravishankar, managing director, Ananthara Resorts.
"We will call it Ramgarh Resort. The staff will be seen in Gabbar Singh’s uniform. We don’t want to undo the heritage of Sholay or hurt the rare vultures on the spot. Let them develop the sanctuary on remaining land. We will also support them," Ravishankar added.
Heritage lovers as well as forest department officials are opposing the venture, which is to come up within forest limits. "The government should have declared the location a heritage site considering the history of Sholay," argues Deepak Arya, a wildlife activist. "The area is home to rare species like the long billed vulture and sloth bear.
While the administration is insensitive, higher ups in the government are backing land sharks for obvious reason. I find this utterly disgusting."
Forest department officials agreed that the spot should have been declared a heritage site. They also said that any development at the site would amount to encroachment on what was forest land.
"Our map says the 280 acres on which the resort is to come up has been notified as forest land in 1917. No one is even allowed to enter the area," said a senior forest officer.
G Ravishankar, however, describes forest officials as mafia in uniform. "All they want to do is extort money from us. The title deed to the property is in my name. They kept mum all these days and suddenly surfaced when we began construction. The forest department is just another name for corruption," said Ravishankar.
Allegedly, the district administration, and even Home Minister VS Acharya, is being seen siding with Ananthara Resorts.
Ravishankar lodged a complaint with the forest department against Ananthara Resorts accusing the company of harassing him.
Shortly after the complaint was lodged, Acharya shot a letter warning forest officials to co-operate with resort developers.
Chandrashekariah, deputy commissioner, Ramanagar said, "As far as I know, the resort is not being constructed on forest land. If the forest department has any objection, let them prove their point in a court of law. I think there is nothing wrong in building a resort there."
Acharya was evasive when asked about his alleged support for Ananthara Resorts. "Forest officials are known for harassing people. I merely saw to it that the builder was not needlessly troubled by them. I wrote to the forest department because it helps a rightful cause. Moreover, if the resort is on forest land let the department take possession of it."
The hillocks on the site are a natural habitat for rare big billed vulture. According to Deepak Arya, a wild life activist, there were around two thousand vultures and now the number is reduced to eleven. There is a proposal to develop a vulture sanctuary and a forest official said it was lying with the secretary, forest department. "We are working on the details of the project. If everything goes well, the sanctuary will be developed shortly," said the officer. "
Of the 314.14 acres in Survey Number 107 in Ramanagar taluk, Kasaba Hobli, Hallimala village, 255 acres were declared forest land in 1917. In 1978, the government granted 80 acres of the land to SC/ST beneficiaries. The forest department had back then raised questions about the legality of granting reserved forest land in a notice issued to the state government. The notice went unanswered. In 2004, the SC/ST beneficiaries of the grant sold the land to a man named Manjunath, who subsequently sold it to Ananthara Resorts. When work on the resort began in 2008, forest sleuths stepped in got the work stopped. The resort owners appealed to the deputy commissioner of the district, who ruled in their favour. The forest deportment is all set move the high court against the DC’s ruling arguing that the DC has no authority to decide on litigation related to forest land.
Krishnappa (75), a resident of Ramanagar, remembers the tender coconuts he served to the Sholay shooting unit 35 years ago. He was a worker of a textile mill that had shut recently. When he learnt of the Bollywood unit shooting nearby, he figured that they would need tender coconuts to quench their thirst. "Hema Malini would pretend to be angry. She would say ’kya hero ko hara-wala dete ho, aur mujhe kaala-wala’. After this exchange Dharmendra would offer his coconut to Hema and they would laugh," said Krishnappa. "While Dharmendra was enerous, Amitabh Bachchan was the most well-mannered actor in the unit among the lot," Krishnappa said.