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Western Ghats Calling

Written By mediavigil on Monday, February 02, 2009 | 8:48 PM

Western Ghats Calling - 1
(Recounting the significant environmental events of the past three decades, India Today Dec 29, 2008, stumbles upon Save Western Ghats march/movement of the mid-80's as a memorable event towards consciousness about the incredible and irreplaceable value of the ghats along the wes coast of India. However, subsequent developments over the pat two decades have seen a gradual but consistent neglect and destruction in the ghats. Over the last two years, a series of meetings with concerned persons and organisations have been held to revive the Spirit of the 80's. There has been a collective decision by several organisations to rebuild the movement - culminating into a national congregation on the issue of Save Western Ghats on Feb 8-10, 2009 in Goa. Leading upto this event, a series of releases are being posted to rekindle the issues and concerns.)

Reviving the movement for saving the Western Ghats
Keya Acharya

Bangalore: Environmentalists are reviving a plan to conserve the vast hilly, forested region running parallel to the west coast of peninsular India (Western Ghats), recognised as a global biodiversity hotspot.

"We have to get together again to stop the ecological degradation that is now taking place in the Western Ghats," says Pandurang Hegde, leader of the appiko (hug the trees) movement of the 1980s, which forced the government to ban tree-felling inside the protected area.

The 'Save Western Ghats' movement of the 1980s involved over 20 local and regional people's movements who got together to march the length of the sector between November 1987 and February 1988, in an awareness-building protest against the construction of dams and power stations that destroy one of the world's richest habitats.

Movements under this banner influenced government policy to stop the felling of trees in Karnataka and cancel plans for a dam in the Silent Valley which was declared a patch of undisturbed tropical forest and converted into a national park in 1984.

The Indian government also set up the Western Ghats Development Programme in 1981 to ensure policies maintained ecological balance, preserved genetic diversity and created awareness for eco-restoration for the damage already done. But those successful environmental movements of the 1980s had, in subsequent decades, died down.

The Western Ghats cover 159,000 sq km, traverse 1,600 km through six west coast states – Gujarat, Goa, Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu – and house an incredible diversity of species and some of the finest examples of moist deciduous and tropical forests.

The ghats, also known as Sahyadri in Maharashtra, has 5,000 species of flowering plants, 139 mammal species, 508 bird species and 179 amphibian species. At least 325 of these are globally threatened species.

It's a complex network of 22 rivers that provides nearly 40% of India's water-catchment systems.

New Delhi-based environmental writer Sudhirendar Sharma likens the Western Ghats to the Amazon forests in its environmental importance. "The stakes for saving the Western Ghats are much higher than previously envisaged and the scope much higher," says Sharma, "The entire region stands to gain as it is the gateway to life-saving monsoons that provide water-security in the subcontinent."

But, in recent years, a fresh spate of construction activity encouraged by the government has re-appeared in these hills.

Currently the best stretch of wilderness exists in the Nagarahole-Bandipur--Mudumalai national park belt of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states and the adjoining Wynad region of North Kerala, holding India's largest protected population of 1,500 elephants.

But the entire protected area faces great pressure from all sides.

In 2006, Prakruthi, a non-governmental organisation founded by Pandurang Hegde and dealing with sustainable harvesting of non timber forest produce, undertook a journey through the ghats to assess the situation and found 'mindless development' taking place.

In Maharashtra, private urban townships, steel and power plants are posing a fresh set of threats to this biodiversity. Mining, diversion of rivers, wildlife tourism and monoculture plantations in Goa have conservationists worried.

Dams, power plants, mining and violent leftwing guerillas threaten the ghats in Karnataka. Encroachments from agricultural plantations, urbanisation and pollution threaten the forests in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

"The very ethos of the Western Ghats Development Program appears to have been laid to rest by the government," complains Hegde.

Sharma, who accompanied the Prakruthi team on their assessment journey and wrote a travelogue report on the situation, believes that the concept of the ghat's forests providing oxygen needs to commodified in the new market economy that has taken hold in India.

"If we can sell carbon offsets, why can we not sell oxygen outright?" he declares. "We need to set up a system wherein those in the ghats who conserve their forests and thereby help maintain atmospheric oxygen for the entire country and subcontinent should be paid by their governments for doing so."

The group meanwhile has decided to set up a summit later in the year where all the stakeholders in the Western Ghats can meet and decide upon a course of action.

A website will be set up in March to gather people's opinions, intensify the Save Western Ghats campaign worldwide and attract international attention, says Sharma.

"This new movement cannot be on the lines of yesteryears because today's reality is market-driven," explains Hegde. "We need to involve even marketing people in this venture."

(this piece was written and published following the press conference in Bangalore in Feb 2008)

Source : IPS News

(re-released on Dec 30, 2008. for details on the upcoming event, contact savewesternghats@gmail.com)

Western Ghats Calling - 2
(Goa may occupy just 1,730 square kilmeters of the 159,000 sq.kms of the Western Ghats spread over a length of 1,600 km passing through six states of the India union, it is significantly important in terms of its ecosystems positioning of its rich landscape and biodiversity. However, ever since the liberation of Goa from the Portugese rule, the upper watersheds of the state have been devastated by widespread unrestricted mining. Goa might be fun and frolic destination of tourists, for the locals it is about livelihoods and survival. Sebastian Rodrigues is keeping track of the unprecedented developments in Goa. Presented here are excerpts of his in-depth paper on the subject. A detailed discourse on the subject is slated at the upcoming congregation to Save Western Ghats on Feb 8-10, 2009 in Goa. This is second in the series of despatches on the crises and potentials of the Western Ghats.)

Stop Mining Terrorism In Goa!

Sebastian Rodrigues

Perhaps you are aware, perhaps you are not aware that mining posses formidable threat to the Goas' survival. Yet it is true; mining has been terrorising Goa over the past five decades. People of Goa have tolerated this all this while but they can no longer do so. Hence we share this message with you so that you can take it far and wide as a friend and well wisher of Goa and its People.

Due to rampant exports of iron ore to many countries in the World including China and Japan due to demand for steel, our villages in hinterlands – in the talukas of Bicholim, Sattari, Sanguem and Quepem – are facing terror attacks of the mining industry that is largely supported by the government in Power. The Goas' monstrous mining industry that took birth in the womb of Portuguese Colonialism has only flourished after Goa's liberation and integration with India. Today it constitutes Goa's number one enemy that is destroying our water bodies every day. Our majestic green mountains of Western Ghats are being chopped down for exports. Villages in the mining belt are becoming increasing thirsty for water and ironically depending upon the very industry to quench their thirst. Pissurlem village in Sattari Taluka is only one example to this situation.

Mining has damaged agriculture – our paddy fields – and snatched food from our plates. It has silted our rivers so badly that fish no longer spawns, Kushavati river is only an example to this. Our villages are becoming increasing poorer while few mining companies are usurping entire profits. A coterie of people has evolved as contractors of the mining industry and providing their services for speedy destruction of Goa forever. Forever because none of them has ever created Single Mountain that they are robbing today from our future generations.

Our water supply stands badly threatened due to mining activities taking place in the catchment areas of Selaulim, Opa and Assanora Dams.

Our two main rivers are taken over by the mining industry for loading and transportation of ore. Mandovi has 37 loading points with 1500 trips of barges per year while Zuari has 20 loading points with 1800 trips per year. Trips are from loading point to Marmagao Harbour from where the ore is exported in giant ships. Several big open cast iron ore mines operate in the catchment areas on Mandovi and Zuari rivers leading to huge accumulation of silt. Each mine creates rejection between 1000 - 4000 tonnes!

Our protected Area forest too is targeted by the mining industry. After Supreme Court closed down nearly 150 large mines miners have gone to Supreme Court they are permitted to resume around 60 these mining leases. Goa has forest cover of 1224 sq. km in addition to 200 sq. km of private forest.

Number of protest has erupted in Goa today because of mining. However mining companies in collusion with State Police force is involved in beating up and arrests of the protestors in routine manner. Colamb, Advalpal, Cavrem, Sirgao, Pissurlem, Mayem, Usgao, Maina, Khola etc are some of the villages that has have rose to challenge mining industry and are constituting boiling points of directly affected Peoples' Protests in Goa. Number of tribal villages too is directly at the receiving end of the mining invasion and has challenged the industry.

We request you to take the message out from Goa that mining industry is terrorizing Goa – its people and nature – and we want mining terrorism to stop and Goa to remain prosperous without mining.

Remember constitutes 0.11% of India's land mass and involved in 35% of India's iron ore export. We are doing this at the cost of our very survival as people and at the cost of our rivers and water bodies that are source of life. Mining is on project to transform Goa into desert wherein everyone will want to avoid this place forever. No tourism, No fisheries, No IIFI, No agriculture, lots of building with no water running in their taps, No longer green goa as mining converting Goa into bloody red, lots of fights over water and survival assets. Mining companies would have made their money by then- in fact they already have – and settled in Switzerland, France or other green pastures.

Yeah, it is good to know how much money Mining industry has already made over the past few years: In 2003-2004 total legal (there is a huge illegal export that goes unaccounted) iron ore export was 22,942 thousand tonnes fetching Rs.46,457 million. In 2004-2005 total legal iron ore export was 24,717 thousand tonnes earning Rs.61,174.575 million. In 2005-2006 total legal export was 25,314 thousand tonnes at the value of Rs.1,77,198 million.

In addition to this large number of Members of Goa Legislative Assembly (MLAs) has entered into mining business during the past 5 years. That has seriously eroded capacity of Goa legislature to even bother about ongoing mining terrorism.

With Goa's mining companies earning such a huge income it is hard to explain as to why Goa needs to have deficit budgets. In 2003 budget deficit was 2,141.10 crore rupes, in 2004 it climbed up to 2,615.17 crore rupees, and in 2005 budget deficit short up to 3088.67 crore! It is all because mining industry is juicing out Goa in every possible way! With this earnings Goa would have been highly prosperous State. But it is all round loot of Goa at the behest of handful of Mining companies that Goa urgently has to get rid of.

Stop mining terrorism in Goa now!

(media persons are requested to contact savewesternghats@gmail.com and/or appiko@gmail.com)

Western Ghats Calling - 3
(The Hindu, Jan 4, 2008, reports: Some 75 km northwest of Kochi — Kerala's bustling seaport — lies the trading town of Chalakudy. And a short 5 km away flows the river that carries its name. Go another few kilometres and you are at the Athirampally falls. Here, water gushes over a large rocky knoll in white, effervescent waves. As you get closer, you feel the wetness; then you are surrounded by a fine mist, cool and bracing against your skin. If you are a nature lover, be here at the break of dawn — and give yourself up to the magic in the air. You'll find yourself being led downstream, as if by an unseen force, to an enchanting spot where, the river seems to bare its soul. But only if the Athirapalley falls and the river survives, argues Sudhirendar Sharma. Meet the activists who are trying to save the river and the exquisite waterfall at the upcoming congregation to Save Western Ghats on Feb 8-10, 2009 in Goa. This is the third in the series of despatches leading to the historic event.)

(for Hindu story http://www.hindu.com/mag/2009/01/04/stories/2009010450280800.htm)

Waterfall of developmental colonialism
Sudhirendar Sharma

As the relentless non-violent protest at the proposed site for the controversial hydroelectric project at Athirappilly in Kerala continues, the stand off between people and powers-that-be underscores the fact that growth engine remains unilaterally focused to undermine human rights and ecological costs. But is it the first time that an economically unviable and ecological destructive project has got the undesired push at the corridors of power?

Do the doubtful gains of the project measure up to the irreversible losses it will inflict on the environment and the tribal population? That it is hornbill habitat with home to four distinct species; that it has rich fish diversity with 104 different species; and that it is most frequented elephant corridor with a high density of 2.1 elephants per sq km seem at best relevant for the environmental discourses to follow!

Does it matter that the proposed 163-MW dam will displace 78 families of the Kadar tribe, the primitive hunter gatherers endemic to the river valley? Haven't displacement and rehabilitation been the persistent cry across river valley projects across the country? So, isn't the issue of rehabilitation of 1,500 members of the primitive tribe on familiar grounds? All this to get the dubious distinction on the 144-km long Chalakudy to be the most dammed river in the country, with the proposed 7th dam at Athirappilly waterfalls.

Undoubtedly, the environmental impacts have largely remained unquantifiable giving a relatively free passage to hydroelectric projects across the country. However, in no way are environmental concerns a work of fiction. But easy acceptance of the possible impacts threaten the ideology of development to which the state, and the vested interests, are deeply entrenched, leading to a conflict of interests between people and the project proponents.

On the familiar turf where projected benefits are traded against unintended impacts, the real block is that the system cannot risk losing patronage. Even if not in a pejorative sense, everybody is loath to lose patronage which rarely, if not always, is without an element of corruption or malfeasance. Consequently, there is a stiff resistance to change as not only a new system could be threatening but that it may lack the elements of patronage with its unwritten gains.

Beneath these hidden manifestations of growth are set of justifications that are rooted in the (growing) consumptive appetite of a huge `aspirational middle class'. Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram lashed out at those who oppose development: `people are being deceived to believe that the existing state of life is an ideal state of life and that development will make it worse. This could be categorized as a conspiracy of the socially-driven class to keep people poor.'

In saying so, Chidambaram echoed the voice of a burgeoning middle class that considers economic reforms as one great opportunity for securing prized jobs with multinationals than as something to be feared. In the present day rah-rah scenario, the picturesque Athirappilly waterfalls would be best preserved on our mental screensavers. Who would want to be reminded of Ammini, a mother of three, whose livelihood will be destroyed once the proposed dam diverts the million-odd tourists who flock each year to witness its gurgling waters?

The likes of Ammini are a speck of dust at the altar of giganticism. The idea of growth is to free the countryside of its age-old blight, by relocating the poor to cities. If current policy environment is any indication, the state wants as many people in the cities, something like 85 per cent, as it is easier to provide services (water, electricity etc) to cities than to 600,000 villages and to justify mega-projects. Do away with the idea that the country can continue to sustain 60 per cent of its rural population!

Athirappilly is the microcosm of what a growing economy has on offer! Undoubtedly, it is a reflection of an unholy trinity of bad policy, inept governance and dumbing down of public mindscape. No wonder, the thundering noise of growth subsumes the feeble tweak of a hornbill. That this were to happen in the `God's own country' is a matter of serious concern. Others will only find it convenient to emulate!

The current stand-off is a dissenting statement against a system that has been undermined from within. The environment impact assessment reports and the public hearings on such projects are only indicative of the glaring inadequacies, as development colonialism creates secular hierarchies incompatible with the social and ecological order. With huge vested interests behind it, the system is neither designed to work nor deliver the goods.

Political will needs to be generated, and that can happen only when the interests of the middle class coincide with the concerns of the underprivileged in the valley. If there is a demand from the non-poor, the likelihood of the state taking action is greater. If concerns of the poor can be tied up with those who draw non-monetary pleasures by being at the waterfalls and are willing to complain, the state will respond faster. This is the irony of being part of a democracy where, in Albert Camus' words, `innocence is called upon to justify itself.'

(for more information on the Feb 8-10 event, write at savewesternghats@gmail.com )

Western Ghats Calling - 4
(Why should the forests of the Western Ghats be considered significant? Even a call has been given to declare the pictureque region as World Heritage site. Published July 15, 2008, this article by Radhakrishna Rao captures the value of forests in the region, as also the threats the forests encounter. Save Western Ghats national consultation on Feb 8-10, 2009 in Goa will bring together over 100 activists, researchers, officials, and donors to discuss and strategise actions to protect the pristine forests in the region. This is the fourth in the series of despatches leading to the historic event.)

Radhakrishna Rao

In a development of significance, a number of eco activist groups in Karnataka have requested the Government of Karnataka to set up a committee empowered to study the measures needed to protect and conserve the ecologically diverse and biologically rich Western Ghats, which, in recent years has been showing up the strains of environmental disruption brought about by widespread deforestation and plunder of the natural resources through illegal mining activities.

These environmental organisations have also urged the Government of Karnataka to impose a blanket ban on mining activities in the region. Further, they have urged the Karnataka Government not to go ahead with the construction of the thermal power station at Tadadi in Uttara Kannada district as it could pose a serious threat to both the highland and coastal belt of the State.

The need to conserve Western Ghats stems from the fact that it is one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world with more than 4,000 plant varieties thriving in its rich, dense forests. A recent survey of Western Ghats has revealed that 80% of the floral varieties of Western Ghats are economically important species. This five-year-long survey meant to document the floral wealth of the Western Ghats has been funded by the National Biodiversity Resources Development Board. "The area covering Western Ghats in Uttara Kannada and North Kerala is quite rich in rare plant population and needs preservation. The relocation of human settlements from the core areas of the Western Ghats could be a solution but the process is quite tedious," says a researcher associated with the survey.

Meanwhile, efforts are on to get the Western Ghats declared as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. "Western Ghats is a very unique area as far as biodiversity is concerned and it has everything needed to be accorded the status of a World Heritage site," says a researcher from the Dehra Dun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WWI). The Kaziranga reserve in Assam and the Nanda Devi Biosphere reserve in Uttaranchal are the two Indian natural spots that have been declared World Heritage sites.

Interestingly, Western Ghats are known for the rich variety of life forms they hold. The densely wooded mountain stretches of the Ghats rise to an average height of 3,000 m and boast of flora and fauna, next only to the Himalayas, in richness and variety. The Ghats account for over a third of the avian varieties endemic to India and provide sanctuary to many endangered species.

Further, an entire family of burrowing snakes called Uropeitids is found in the thick forests of Western Ghats. A variety of vegetation too adds up to the richness of the Ghats. The Ghats, which account for a third of India's total flowering plants, are rich in orchid varieties, many of which are endangered.

On another front, the Western Ghats are a major source of coffee, tea, pepper, cardamom, rubber and cashew plantations and are also a repository of important minerals like iron, manganese and bauxite. Clearly, they serve as an economic powerhouse of western and southern India. Moreover, being the source of all the great rivers of peninsular India - Krishna, Kaveri, Periyar, Tungabhadra and Kali - these Ghats constitute the most important watershed of South India.

In addition, unchecked industrialisation, dam construction, road building, plantations and the introduction of exotic species like acacia and eucalyptus are threatening to tear apart the fine ecological balance of these Ghats. Forestry experts point out that more than half of the forest stretches in Western Ghats have been affected by human encroachment and development activities.

The hydro electric projects have been the single largest contributing factor to the eco destruction of Western Ghats. For well over six decades now, the rivers and streams originating in the Ghats have captivated the narrowly channelled imagination of technocrats with little respect for ecological balance.

The thickly wooded forests of the Western Ghats act as the catchment area for a large number of rivers and streams. Unlike the rivers emanating from the depths of the Himalayas, which are fed by the melting snow of the mountains, these rivers are perennial because of the vegetation in the catchment area. In step with the destruction of the vegetation cover in the Western Ghats, there has been a massive increase in the incidence of soil erosion, which, in turn, has triggered off a process of siltation. In the face of massive siltation, the efficiency of the hydro electric projects, a vicious cycle of extensive deforestation, soil erosion, silting and consequent shortening of life by hydroelectric projects have become a grim reality that cannot be wished away.

In the ultimate analysis, helping the Western Ghats retain their eco health is the key to the well-being of the states covered by the densely wooded mountain stretch

(for more information and participation in the event write to, savewesternghats@gmail.com

Western Ghats Calling - 5
(Master storyteller, profound and compelling chronicler of history and society, Amitav Ghosh is that rare writer whose prose dazzles in both his fiction and non-fiction works. Ghosh has published a gripping essay titled 'Wild Fictions' on how literature, legends and folklore have influenced our responses to nature and wildlife. Excerpted from this essay are interesting observations on how indeed our forests are being held sway by a the colonial remains of a system. Forests will be a subject of intense discussion at the upcoming national meeting to Save Western Ghats on Feb 8-10, 2009 in Goa. This is the 5th in the series of despatches leading to the historic event. For information on the event, write to savewesternghats@gmail.com or appiko@gmail.com)

Pristine forests, ethnic cleansing
Amitav Ghosh

When urban tourists visit national parks or sanctuaries, they have litlle conception that their experience of the wilderness is akin to that of spectators at a play: rarely if ever are they given a glimpse of the stage machinery that provides them with their experience - that is to say the administrative apparatus of eviction, restriction and so on that make these wildernesses conform to the tourist's notion of the `pristine'. They are, in this sense, partners in the production of wild fiction: it is their willing suspension of disbelief that makes the exclusivity of forests possible.

In effect, over many decades, there has been a kind of `ethnic cleansing' of India's forests: indigenous groups have been evicted or marginalised and hotel chains and urban tourists have moved in. In other words, the costs of protecting Nature have been thrust upon some of the poorest people in the country, while the rewards have been reaped by certain segments of the urban middle class. Is it reasonable to expect that the disinherited groups will not find ways of resisting, wheter it be through arms, or poaching, or active destruction of forests? This indeed is one of the reasons why the Naxalite insurgency - which the Prime Minister has acknowledged to be the single most serious threat to the country - has fund such fertile ground in India's heartlands.

The Forest Deartment is no different from any other arm of government, in that some of its officers are idealistic and competent while others are corrupt and inefficient. But it so happens that the Forest Department holds sway in areas where there is little oversight, which means, unfortunately, that there is often greater scope for the abuse of bureaucratic power. Such indeed is the atmosphere of repression and secrecy in some of our parks that even influential outsiders risk retaliation if they bear witness to what they see. Not long ago, an eminent tiger biologist whose research suggested that officials were inflating their tiger population statistics had his equipment seized and was taken to court on an unrelated charge.

In another instance, the Forest Department is said to have filed 13 suits of criminal trespass against conservationists who collected data on an environmental harmful mining project in the Kudremukh National Park in Karnataka's Western Ghats. This is what relatively privileged outsiders face in dealing with the rulers of India's forests. As for the realities that confront the people who live under this regime, they are perhaps best deicted in such harrowing works as Gopinath Mohanty's Paraja, and the novels of Mahasweta Devi.

In short, the people who live in India's forests have had to contend, since colonial times, with a pattern of governance that tends to criminalise their beliefs and practices. Ironically, the era of decolonisation, with its growing awareess of environmental issues, has made their situation even more precarious by providing an overarching ideology to sanction their dispossession.

(excerpted from Wild Fictions by Amitav Ghosh, Outlook Nano # 6)

Western Ghats Calling - 6
(For Planning Commission of the country, the Western Ghats falls under the Hill Area Development Programme. Though it has been given a special status since the early 70's, the approach has been development oriented and not conservation centric. Whatever information one could cull out from the official website of the Planning Commission indicates a skewed vision towards the Western Ghats - which is sectoral and welfare priented. Further, the programmes are state-specific and do not presume the Western Ghats to be an ecological continuum of immense significance, if climate change is anything to go by. Planning and Governance will be subjects of intense discussion at the upcoming national meeting to Save Western Ghats on Feb 8-10, 2009 in Goa. This is the 6th in the series of despatches leading to the historic event. For information on the event, write to savewesternghats@gmail.com or appiko@gmail.com)

Fractured Vision, Sectoral Action
the SWG team

The 1600 kms length of the Western Ghats, from the mouth of river Tapti in Dhule district of Maharashtra and ending at Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, has been beset with ecological and environmental problems like increasing pressure of population on land and vegetation; submergence of forest areas under river valley projects, encroachment on forest lands; clear felling of forests for raising tea, coffee, rubber and other plantations; mining operations, soil erosion, land slides; shifting cultivation; and declining wildlife population.

The region generally receives 2000 mm to 7000 mm of rainfall. Most of the rivers in peninsular India have their origin in Western Ghats of which Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri, Kali and Periyar are of inter-State importance. These water resources have been harnessed for irrigation and power. About thirty per cent of the area of the Western Ghats region is under forest. The region is also a treasure house of plant and animal life. The traditional horticulture crops in the region are arecanut in the hills, and coconut in the coast along with mango and jack fruit. Tea, coffee, rubber, cashew and tapioca are the other important plantations/crops of the region.

Launched in 1974-75, the Western Ghats Development Programme (WGDP) aimed at eco-development, eco-restoration and eco-preservation of the region. While during the 5th Five Year Plan the emphasis was on well-being of the population, it drifted to an integrated approach through watershed development in the 8th and 9th Plans. If the website of the Planning Commission is any indication, the Western Ghats Development Programme hinges on programmatic areas like maintenance of ecological balance essential for the life support system; preservation of genetic diversity; and restoration of ecological damage caused by human interaction.

However, in reality the overall ecological situation in the Western Ghats is anything but pathetic. Destructive infrastructure projects have ravaged the fragile eco-systems in the region. Given the fact that the programmatic focus in sectoral and state-specific, the net impact has failed to outpace the manmade destruction in the Western Ghats. The releases in this column provide indication of the manner in which the `oxygen bank' of the country is made to lose its sheen. Given the fact that the climate change clouds are hovering over the region, it is time the Western Ghats get viewed as an ecological continuum and liberated from the welfare-fixation of the Planning Commission. Is there anyone listening?

(based on information available at the Planning Commission website and related link, the information is not exhaustive and readers are encouraged to make contributions)

Western Ghats Calling - 7
(A 3-month long padyatra involving over 1,000 social activists and researchers to Save Western Ghats had culminated at Goa on Feb 3, 1988. As the ethos of the padyatra get revived 21 years later, yet again at Goa from Feb 8-10, 2009, it is time to look back and reflect upon the past. One of the better known padyatri Mr B J Krishnan, an accomplished lawyer and man behind Save Nilgiris Campaign, reminiscences on the past. Interestingly, Krishnan would be at the upcoming national meeting to Save Western Ghats on Feb 8-10, 2009 in Goa to hand over the baton of responsibility to the young generation. This is the 7th in the series of despatches leading to the historic event). For more information on the event, write to savewesternghats@gmail.com or appiko@gmail.com)

The Unfinished March

B J Krishnan

Elephants migrated along these fabled forests long before man made his appearance. Birds of every description flitted between lianas, creepers, ferns and tall trees in whose canopy, it is believed, tree squirrels could once have travelled over 1,000 km. without ever stepping down to the ground. The Western Ghats were once rich and productive. Dense vegetation then formed an evergreen canopy to protect the fragile soils of this most diverse and magical belt. The long wall of tree-clothed slopes acted as a screen to capture the rain heavy south-west monsoon winds that blew in from the sea to water this 160,000 sq. km. Eden.

Legend has it that the picturesque ghats were pulled from the oceans by Sage Parshuram, a reincranation of Lord Vishnu. However, the Ghats that form the catchment area for the complex peninsular Indian river system that drains almost 40 per cent of India has been under threat. An area of critical conservation importance today, much of its natural wealth has vanished and little attempt has been made to stem the rot, despite the fact that there is a high degree of biological endemism; species desperately in need of preservation.

When the padyatra was held two decades ago, the marchers had noticed that the principal sufferers of forest loss in the ghats have not been the animals but tribals and rural poor. Watercourses had become polluted. The water table had fallen. Firewood, once abundant, was impossibly scarce and mere living had involved conflict with forest staff. Not much may have changed for the better though. Conversely, it only has worsened.

The Save Western Ghats March (SWGM) was a milestone event in building awareness among a large section of the society on the unique nature of mountain ecosystem in general and that of the Western Ghats in particular. Until then, the environmental focus was only on the Himalayas. That the Western Ghats was the lifeline of the Deccan Plateau was neither comprehended, nor appreciated till then.

During the historic padyatra, the marchers had highlighted the ecological imperative of these mountains as source of water, biodiversity and hydel power. During the one hundred days march, the participants had sharply focused on these environmental imperatives in their public interaction and campaign. This, I consider, as one of the constructive outcome of the March.

At the subjective level, the two group of marchers – one marching in the north-south direction and the other marching on the south-north direction on the ghats, it was an ecological pilgrimage. Marching through the pristine woods, settlements of indigenous people, clear streams and degraded forests, it was both a lesson and experience on the complex web of life in the context of mountain ecosystem.

At the closing stages of the event, an activist from Karnataka had confessed: ` My life will not be the same again.' That summed up the mood, individual transformation being imperative for social change and action.

With over 500 voluntary organisations converging for the largest ever social congregation, it was a great moment in the history of environment movement in the country. People from different parts of the country and abroad representing different shades of opinion and outlook had come together voluntarily for the cause of conservation. It was a defining moment in the ecological history of India.

At the end of the march, we had all converged at Ponda in Goa for a two-day experience sharing exercise. Representing the Save Nilgiris Campaign I had identified three major concerns viz., a highly toxic electroplating industrial unit on the banks of river Moyar; extensive eucalyptus plantation on the sprawling grasslands; and the conversion of virgin forests into tea-plantation in the Janmam lands in Gudalur. It is with some satisfaction I report that two of the three major threats have cased to exist, though conversion of forest into monoculture plantation is an ongoing evil.

The efforts to convert `march' into a `movement' hadn't fructified. As I write this note twenty years later, I'm convinced that we need to build upon the dormant seeds of that momentous event. We cannot allow environmental complacency to set in. Not only have the challenges amplified, the demon has become more potent.

( B J Krishnan, an ardent follower of J Krishnamurti, lives in Ooty with his wife)

Western Ghats Calling - 8
(A little over a week from now, from Feb 8-10, 2009, a large group of persons drawn from diverse backgrounds will converge at Goa to assess the damage that has done to the pristine Western Ghats in developing strategies to bring about order in the prevailing insanity. The consultation will delve into areas that have hitherto remained outside the domain of most civil society discourses. One amongst them will be the linkage between faith and ecology. This is the 8th in the series of despatches leading to the historic event).

For more information on the event, write to savewesternghats@gmail.com or appiko@gmail.com)

Faith can move mountains!
Sudhirendar Sharma

Recent news reports indicate that towards the close of the year, the hotspots of man-animal conflict will get mapped across the country. First of its kind study aims to do a comprehensive assessment across forest divisions in all states. Over past few years, man-animal conflicts have assumed serious proportions. While monkey menace is commonplace across urban areas, incidents of dreaded King Cobra entering households living close to the forests have come to light in parts of the Western Ghats.

Forest clearing and habitat alterations are undoubtedly at the core of growing incidences of man-animal conflict. Interestingly, however, the cause-effect relationship of such conflicts are often restricted to species that are notoriously dangerous. But what about myriads of other species whose defence mechanisms are not as potent, and who fall victim to its habitat destruction? The Lion-tailed macaque is one species that is threatened on account of habitat fragmentation in its only home in the Western Ghats.

However, the story doesn't end here. The habitat alternation unleashed by the development juggernaut is alienating its very own people, the notion being that too poor and too disempowered people, like the mute creatures in the wild, cannot adequately articulate their own interests. People have been pushed to the limits of tolerance, man-man conflicts manifests in armed encounters across forested areas. Growing same-species intolerance has become a potent political tool to incite hatred amongst different faiths.

It has long been argued that living close to and in harmony with nature has therapeutic value. Any disconnect in this relationships must trigger divergent responses - intolerance is amongst the first. However, the mechanistic world view that ascribes economic value to every transactions has deeper limitation in evaluating such relationships: as its evaluation is often based on a contract drawn up and signed by single party, leaving little scope for the intepretation of the symbiotic needs of co-habiting species and ecosystems.

Entire notion of living with nature is based on faith, often enshrined in diverse local cultures. Habitat alteration not only erodes prevailing faith(s) but makes people (and animals too!) vulnerable. Accumulated insecurity on account of vulnerabiity results in violence. This is one of the reasons why the Naxalite insurgency - which the Prime Minister has acknowledged to be the single most serious threat to the country - has found such fertile ground in India's forested lands. Western Ghats have not remained isolated from such influences.

Can rebuilding faith(s), not religious polarisation and bigotry, bring about sanity in man-man and man-nature relationship? Given the fact that science cannot be the final arbiter in the matter of our relationship with nature, increasing tolerance for eachother through inter-faith dialogue can help bring some order in a society that has been torn apart. While science has its limitation so has political action, as it cannot generate the imaginative resources that are necessary to a rethinking of the human relationship with nature.
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