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Poeple's Manifesto on Western Ghats

Written By Gopal Krishna on Tuesday, April 07, 2009 | 4:34 AM

Note: Unprecedented threats posed to our ecosystem from Himalayas to Sahyadri creates a compelling logic for citizens to undertake all kinds of sane interventions without any parochial and myopic considerations sans ulterior motives. What is at stake among other things is inter-generational equity. The business as usual scenario of most political parties and companies that fund them have set in motion a process akin to replumbing our ecosystem to satisfy hunger with one's own flesh. Manifesto on Western Ghats (Sahyadri) is a historic document and is quite relevant to the fragile Himalayan ecosystem as well.

Gopal Krishna

Press Release April 7, 2009


Manifesto on Western Ghats

A first-ever citizen’s manifesto on Western Ghats has been released by the Save Western Ghat Campaign to bring .the critical issues afflicting this 1,600 km mountainous stretch along the west coast, that is “gateway to monsoons and hotspot of biodiversity” to light:

· Political commitment to protect the natural forests is critical to the water security of south India, especially the flows in rivers like Cavery, Tungabhadra and Krishna. This will also help in attaining the power security for the region.

· Regenerate the forests by indigenous species rather than exotic species.

· Forest dwellers should not be resettled for establishing National Parks, instead community be given right to collect forest produce for livelihood security.

· Dam building across the rivers in Western Ghats needs to be stopped and a review of existing dams be done at the earliest.

· National Rural Employment Guarantee Act should be implemented specifically for ecological rehabilitation in Western Ghats.

· Western Ghats needs to be declared `GM free’, as it being the center of biodiversity for numerous plants, crops, and wild products that provide food and ecological security. Introduction of GM will unleash dreadful consequences.

· A series of mega thermal power plants are being established in Konkan and along West Coast. This will lead to increased climate change causing changes in micro climate affecting the cultivation of famous “Alphosno” mango.

There are 32 parliamentary constituencies coming under Western Ghats region from Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The activists of Save Western Ghats will campaign in these constituencies impressing upon major political parties as well as candidates to work towards meeting these demands.

The activists will also meet the prospective candidates and get a letter-of-commitment form them assuring their support towards holistic policies to conserve the Western Ghats and to give voice to the voiceless Sahyadri Mountains. Once elected they would help to form a lobbying group called MPs Forum for Western Ghats in Lok Sabha and for reforming the polices that impact the region.

This is the first time a people’s manifesto is being issued on ecologically important mountain range like Westen Ghats. This was prepared after consulting 85 non-government & research organisations and 8000 people from five states. We hope to get support form all the major political parties contesting from this region.


Issued on behalf of Save Western Ghat Campaign

For further information contact:

Pandurang Hegde, Sirsi, Karnataka (09448818099); A Latha, Thrissur, Kerala (09847283120); Archana Godbole, Pune, Maharashtra (09890927727): Sudhirendar Sharma, Delhi (09868384744).

Citizen’s manifesto on WESTERN GHATS

15th LOK SABHA ELECTIONS


2009

(adopted by all candidates contesting elections irrespective of party affiliation)

Preamble

A. Western Ghats, like the Amazon, form the `girdle’ of the earth to maintain ecological balance, invoke monsoons and provide a cushion for climate change.

The mountainous corridor along the west coast is a distinct ecological continuum that is nature’s best gift to the country. Called Western Ghats, this narrow 1,700 km strip that stretches from the mouth of Tapti in Dhule district of Maharashtra to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu is nature’s unique evolutionary laboratory still at work. It is the Monsoon Gateway to the sub-continent when its ecological riches pull the strong oceanic currents to offload their first showers on the landmass.

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B. Western Ghats, older than the Himalaya, is one of the 34 Global Hotspots of Biodiversity – flora, fauna, landscape and ethnicity.

Western Ghats is replete with bewitching locations that are home to known 4,050 type of plants, 121 species of frogs, 508 bird species, 6 types of turtles and terrapins, 87 species of snakes, 63 types of lizards and a wide variety of large mammals. New species are being discovered in this biodiversity hotspot where some 325 globally threatened species occur. It is under UNESCO’s active consideration to be declared a World Heritage.

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Issues

Shrinking Water Towers

The forest cover in Western Ghats, as per scientific guidelines, should be 66 per cent of the total geographical area in the hilly region. Unfortunately, the forest cover in the Western Ghats hill region is less than 35 per cent (that too in fragmented state) on account of forest clearance for unmindful development This has had adverse impact on the water security of the peninsular India. As catchments of most peninsular rivers like Cavery, Krishna, Tunga Bhadra and Periyar originate in Western Ghats, it is essential to conserve these forests to secure water security of south Indian states. It is imperative to conserve existing natural forests and regenerate natural forests with indigenous tree cover because the unique biodiversity exists only in such forests, and not amidst monoculture plantations of exotic species.

Man-Animal Conflicts

Forests are the sole and rapidly shrinking habitat of wildlife and any forest encroachment accelerates man-animal conflict. Forest conservation and wildlife protection go hand in hand but erroneous perception is that priority to wildlife triggers such conflicts. Both are complementary to each other and the need of the hour is to instill confidence among the forest dwelling tribes that their livelihood is secured through conservation of wild animals and habitats. This enhances the natural capital as well as provides ecological security for the human beings and wildlife. There should be no resettlement of villages from the National Park or Sanctuary. Indigenous people and tribes be given access to Non Timber Forest Produce.

Dam induced destruction

Silent Valley struggle created history by stopping the hydro dam for saving forests and wildlife in the Western Ghats. Nevertheless there are renewed attempts at harnessing each of the flowing rivers in Western Ghats to generate hydro power by building dams. Several dams across the rivers exist in Western Ghats, from Koyna in Maharashtra, Supa, Sharavati in Karnataka and Idduki in Kerala. There is an urgent need to review the performance of these dams before building any new structures. Dams have an impact on wildlife by causing infringement on animal corridors.

Eroding agriculture diversity

Agricultural crisis in Western Ghats need to be addressed differently as it has distinct zones - coastal, hill terrain and the edge of the ghats - requiring special attention. The impending climatic change calls for a system of agriculture that is resilient to such changes. Western Ghats has rich diversity of farm and plantation crops that need to be promoted at the expense of high yielding varieties, for securing local food and economic security and for providing sanctuary to wildlife. Being home to rare and rich biodiversity, Western Ghats should be declared GM FREE.

Threatened tribal livelihood

The forest dwelling tribes in Western Ghats represent a unique diversity of cultures that co-habit within forest ecosystems. Their resource base of natural forests is shrinking at a faster rate, affecting the livelihood opportunities like collection of Non Timber Forest Produce. In order to provide livelihood security, the Forest Right Act 2006 needs to be effectively implemented. Community control over forest resources, in addition to rights over land, can guarantee livelihood security with the added benefit of forest and diversity conservation. NREGA needs to be implemented specifically for ecological rehabilitation in Western Ghats.

Thermal Power Plants

There are attempts to establish a series of thermal power projects along the coastal belt of Western Ghats to generate captive power. Though it might be strategically important to locate these power projects on the coast due to cheap import of coal and raw material, it will be counter-productive to the ecosystem fragility in Western Ghats in the long run. Given the distinct ecosystem that is Western Ghats, any such attempt will alter the micro climate, weaken the ecosystem resilience and lead to the destruction of the famous alphonso mangoes from Ratnagiri in Konkan and the spices from Western Ghats, among other irreversible changes. It will have serious impact on aquatic diversity and fish catch in the estuaries and on the coast.

Destructive infrastructure

The host of infrastructure projects like building new roads, rail lines, SEZ, widening the existing highways in the forests, location of heavy industries in the region is bound to cause damage to the existing natural resources. It is essential to review the location of entire infrastructure projects and prioritize those which have least impact on the eco-systems and those that do not displace people, pollute the river systems, fragment the existing forests and cut off wildlife corridors. Expanding tourism need to be brought under strict regulation too.

Diverting rivers

There are numerous attempts to link and divert rivers flowing in the west to be linked to the east flowing rivers. This kind of engineering of the rivers, diverting their natural course is bound to create irreparable ecological, social and economic impacts on the downstream including loss of ‘ecological flows’ in rivers, causing hardship to people and forests on the west coast. It is essential to reconsider and halt such diversion of rivers in Western Ghats.

Reckless mining

Mining is one of the major causes of destruction of tropical forests in Western Ghats. It has not only caused the chocking of rivers and river courses, but it has destroyed the regenerating capacity of the land and forests. There is a need to do fresh thinking on extension of mining leases, limits to mining depth and identify the sites that can be used for mining without damaging the environment, for instance in those areas where there is no forest cover, or near the rivers. It must be made mandatory for the lessee to follow the polluter pay principle and comply with environment and rehabilitation laws.

Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve comprises of 5500 odd sq.km area covering the maximum extent of protected areas (National Parks, Tiger Reserves and Wild Life Sanctuaries) in three states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In order to address the emerging issues in this fragile region, it is essential to grant legal status to the protection of Biosphere Reserves in the country including the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. The present status is that of apathy from all the state governments with lack of proper coordination and administrative hassles. This region should made a model Biosphere Reserve which will help maintain ecological security of these three states.

Demands

* Contesting candidates are seized of the global significance of Western Ghats as a rare repository of biodiversity and resolve to protect the same through the development of pro-poor and pro-environment policies and regulations for it to achieve the status of World Heritage.

* Once elected, peoples’ representatives will withhold `community’ concerns in protecting peoples’ rights to resources and livelihoods. They will work towards compliance of regulations to protect the natural flora and fauna conducive to the protection of livelihoods of the poor and the tribals.

* Candidates vouch to raise the stature of Western Ghats in policy processes and work jointly (with MPs from other parts of Western Ghats) towards declaring the region as Sahyadri Ecologically Sensitive Area at the earliest to prevent further destruction of the Western Ghats.

* As Members of Parliament, the representatives of the Western Ghats will campaign to have the ecological corridor come under a representative bottom-up Western Ghats Conservation Authority and will demand that the existing environmental laws are given special provisions (teeth) for the protection of the region.

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The Western Ghats Manifesto has been released for and on behalf of Save Western Ghats Campaign, a civil society coalition striving to rebuild concerns to save the ghats.

(Letter to be signed by the prospective candidates contesting Lok Sabha from Western Ghats)

Dear People of Western Ghats,

I understand the importance of the Sahyadri or Western Ghats as a source of ecological security to the millions of people in India. Recognising this fact, once elected to the Parliament, I shall strive to work towards evolving a holistic policy towards the Sahyadri mountain range. In order to attain this I shall try my best to work on the following issues:

1. Will try to work towards conserving the remaining natural forests, flora and fauna in the region

2. Will try to bring policy changes towards establishing Western Ghats Conservation Authority, an inclusive and representative body vested with powers to initiate actions to protect the fragile ecosystems.

3. Will not support any actions, policies that will lead to destruction of the natural resources like forests, wildlife, river or coastal areas

4. Will protect the livelihood base of forest dwellers, without destroying their natural resource base

5. Will work towards reduction of conflicts between man and wildlife

As I am one of the persons who is part of Western Ghats, it is my duty to be the messenger of these mountains which is voiceless. I assure you that I shall be the spokesperson for this Sahyadri in the Lok Sabha.

For Sahyadri

Yours truly,

Name

Address and Phone No:
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