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Developing Sahyadris and Eating it too

Written By Gopal Krishna on Friday, February 06, 2009 | 11:02 PM

"Even if imagination were a horse it would be impossible for it to move in these parts. It is extremely difficult for this region to be conquered. It is full of hill ranges and deep gorges. I am blessed with divine favour. An invader of these lands, whosoever he may be, has never succeeded," in a letter to the Mogul officials wrote Shivaji in the midst of his successful battle against the Mogul Empire in the north and that of Bijapur kingdom in the south. He was referring to the Sahyadris, the elder brother of Himalayas, not knowing that Western Ghats Development Programme would prove him wrong.

Spectators like Planning Commission who delineated overarching ideology of development also designated the Sahyadris as the Western Ghats development region and turned it into a spectacle vanquished by the developers for good. Be it Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Goa, the objective of the developers is to make the economic well being of the population in the Sahyadris and exploitation of the resources of the hilly region as its only focus. As an afterthought it has been rationalized by making right sounding noises about balance between beneficiary oriented and infrastructural development schemes, keeping in view the vital importance of ecological restoration and conservation.

Amid official and unofficial "conservation efforts" and attempts to draw a fine balance between the ideology of development as a national security need, the biodiversity of the Sahyadris, one of the eight biodiversity hotspots in the world, is degrading fast, one can hear the resonance of what University Education Commission of 1948 had noted. On the defects of exclusively scientific and technical education, it said, "Now that scientific, discoveries and technological applications have altered our physical environment profoundly in the space of a few generations, our social habits and institutions require to be readjusted. We have grown strong in the mastery of the physical world but are very weak in our ability to manage and direct the social forces that shape our lives. It is a false belief that scientific pre-eminence is the only basis- of national security and welfare."

Since 1980 more than 200 species are believed to have gone extinct largely due to misplaced human intervention. Now that the 12 species of frogs have been identified following a revision of the Philautus genus and are a result of ten years of field study in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka. Goa, Maharashtra, and parts of Gujarat, in the Sahyadris. This finding includes a rediscovery of a 'lost species', the Travancore bushfrog which was thought to be extinct. Herpetologists and researchers in the amphibian community warn that the surveys reveal threats to frogs, namely habitat loss to urbanization and plantations. Seven of the 12 new species were only found in unprotected areas. This has been published in latest issue of Zoological Journal of Linnean Society, London.

Underlining its rich biodiversity Sahyadris mediate the rainfall regime of peninsular India by intercepting the southwestern monsoon winds. The wide variation of rainfall patterns in the Sahyadris, coupled with the region’s complex geography, produces a great variety of vegetation types. These include scrub forests in the low-lying rainshadow areas and the plains, deciduous and tropical rainforests up to about 1,500 meters, and a unique mosaic of montane forests and rolling grasslands above 1,500 meters. Kalsubai, Mahabaleshwar, Harishchandragarh, Kudremukh, and Anamudi are the main peaks in the Sahyadris. Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri and their tributaries are the perennial rivers of the Sahyadris that flow into the Bay of Bengal. Interestingly, Sahyadri hills of southwestern India and the highlands of southwestern Sri Lanka although separated by 400 kilometers, are strikingly similar in their geology, climate and evolutionary history although Sri Lanka is a continental island separated from southern India by the 20-meter-deep Palk Strait.

Oblivious of such ecologically diverse but fragile zones wherein these species inhabit, fulfilment of the Planning Commission's objective of "exploitation" for economic well-being remains the litmus test of patriotism. The ongoing loss of dense forest cover, ecological destruction, mining at any cost, emergence of questionable, unreliable and confidential wildlife census data and the landlordism of forest department seem to represent a tendency wherein an animal called developer begins to eat its own flesh for its own and for some supposed greater common good.

Even as sponsored destruction Sahyadris is underway, new discoveries of previously unknown species made in the forests amid the increasing vulnerability to extinction of more and more species must set the alarm bell ringing.
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