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Save Western ghats, Cancel destructive projects! #SaveWesternGhats

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WHY SHOULD WE CONSERVE WESTERN GHATS ?

  • Older than The Himalayas, the hill chain of the Western  Ghats,  a  treasure  trove  of  biodiversity  and  the  water  tower  of   Peninsular  India,  runs  parallel  to  the  West  coast  of  India  from  the  river  Tapi  in  the  north  to   Kanyakumari  in  the  south.
  • Western Ghats stretches to  a  length  of  1490  km  from  Tapi   Valley  in  the  north  to  Kanyakumari with a total area of 1,29,037 SqKm.
  • The strategic location of the Ghats act as a climate gatekeeper and regulator for the entire sub-continent, influencing the southwest monsoon and the climate of south India.
  • The Ghats are the Water Tower of peninsular India and supports the livelihood of a population of over 250 Million through the various East and West flowing rivers. This water caters to ~25% of India’s population, 80% of which lives on the Deccan Plateau, to the east of the Ghats. Several major rivers like Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri, Tungabhadra originate in the Western Ghats.
  • Food security and livelihoods - The traditional land use in the Ghats has been paddy, millets, tubers, legumes on wetlands, supplemented by cultivation of  cash crops like coffee, tea, areca, cardamom, pepper, rubber  on  the  hill  slopes. Local indigenous population depend on their nutrition and medicinal requirements through a diversity of wild fruits, medicinal plants.
  • 55% of India’s arable land is dependent on monsoons with India’s agriculture sector accounting for around 14% of the country’s $2.7 trillion economy and 42% of total employment.  
  • According to UNESCO, The Western Ghats are today considered one of the planet’s 8 “hottest hotspots” in terms of their significance for biodiversity conservation. 
  • One of the largest natural carbon sinks in the country with a holding capacity of  1.23 MGg (million gigagrams or Gt) in WG forest ecosystem vegetation and soils. The annual incremental carbon is about 37.5 million tons, Mt and the highest is in the forests of Karnataka part of WG.
  • Western Ghats is a highly sensitive ecological zone and sustains life in all the states that it is part of, and beyond.

WHY IS WESTERN GHATS UNDER THREAT?

  1. Thermal and Nuclear power plants are known to pollute our air and emit toxic gases that create lung related ailments
  2. Hydroelectric projects are known to submerge several sq km of land area including pristine forests thus relocating humans and wildlife alike. Large scale submergence of pristine forest contributes to habitat loss thus triggering human animal conflicts and diseases.
  3. Mining and quarrying: These are hill landscapes that are prone to landslides and any such large construction of buildings / townships would have deleterious impacts like the one that was seen in Idukki, Wayanad, Kodagu and Uttara Kannada districts during recent floods. 
  4. Agriculture Land Conversion: Large areas of wetlands and plantation lands are converted for tourism, townships, housing.
  5. Forest loss and Outbreak of diseases: Forest loss is considered as one of the primary reasons for deadly diseases. HIV, AIDS apart from Corona, Nipah, Zika, Ebola, SARS, Yellow fever, influenza, Kyasanuru Forest Disease (monkey fever) among others originated due to deforestation, urbanization, bushmeat consumption, extensive road networks and contact of indigenous people with the outside world.                                                                                                                                                                                                  Kerala has lost 9064 Sq Km between 1973 and 2016 ; Karnataka has lost 200 Sq Km of forest Land in Western Ghats between Year 2001 to 2017.
  6. Climate Change induced rains: Frequency and intensity of rain has played havoc in these landscapes thus impacting agriculture cycles, loss of lives, land and standing crops.
  7. Landslides and Floods : As per GSI, 21% of the landslide-prone areas of the country (90,000 sq km) are located in Western Ghats and Konkan Hills.                                                                                                                                                                                              Kerala, Kodagu, Chickmanguluru are yet to recover from the damages caused by unprecedented floods and landslides for two consecutive years in 2018 and 2019.                                                                                                                                                                 Unscientific road cutting, use of heavy machinery like earthmovers, deforestation on private lands for timber, loss of native tree cover by planting silver oak monocrop are some of the primary causes for landslides during heavy monsoon.
  8. Four and Six laning of National Highways and Railways for Coal transport:
    GSI has stated that Infrastructural development such as construction of new roads and widening of the existing roads that involve the modification of slopes, disturb the equilibrium. Majority of slopes along the highways pose significant risk dominantly from rainfall-induced slope failures. 
  9. Unregulated Tourism: Most districts of Western Ghats attract more than 10 lakh tourists every year. The resident population of people dependent on these Ghats are just 1/3rd of this number.  It puts the entire landscape to pressure of handling waste to ensure the rivers, forests and surrounding villages are not contaminated. This puts local population at risk for disease outbreaks.
  10. Impact to critical wildlife corridors: An increasingly large number of road kills are being reported all along various segments of Western Ghats habitat. There are numerous scientific studies and surveys of road kills. Instances of human-wildlife conflicts, including elephants, panthers, leopards invading human settlements, are also on the rise.
  11. Diversion of river systems like Yettinahole or for filling up urban lakes will decimate the forest land and the associated livelihoods like fishing and agriculture in the locality.
  12. Any further destruction of Western Ghats will lead to an ecological and human disaster beyond our imagination.  Millions of living beings and humans will be affected.


CITIZENS' DEMANDS 

  1. Enact Laws to prohibit the following activities from entire area of Western Ghats:
    1. Prohibit new thermal and nuclear power plants in the entire area of 1,29,037 SqKm of Western Ghats. All existing nuclear power plants in Western Ghats need to be phased out in a span of 5 years.
    2. All mining, quarrying and sand mining shall be completely prohibited in the entire area of 1,29,037 Sq Km. These steep mountain slopes are prone to devastating landslides and impact the lives and livelihoods of people. 
    3.  Do not allow CAMPA in any form in Western Ghats. 
    4. Red category industries and hazardous chemical applications shall be completely prohibited. These would pollute our critical water ecosystems and expose us to carcinogenic elements that affect our right to healthy life. 
    5. Linear intrusion projects (Road widening ( 6 or 4 lanes ), Railway, Transmission  by blasting/ tunnelling of hills are known to trigger landslides and hence any large scale  linear intrusion projects are to be prohibited.  All existing roads to be maintained well for its current width and ensure the roads are in good condition for locals to commute. 
    6. Prohibition on clear felling of trees that are critical to holding the top soil on steep slopes irrespective of land status. Large girth size trees that are more than 50 years shall be retained on the slope. Allow cutting of only selected species like Silver Oak, Mahogany. 
    7. Large scale township/ construction projects by converting paddy , wetlands, estates shall be prohibited. 
    8. All critical wildlife corridors in these landscapes shall be devoid of human activities like tourism, clear felling of trees. 
    9. All wetland ecosystems including Myristica swamps, Ramsar sites shall be included in NO GO areas for human activity including agriculture. 
    10. No new large private companies shall set shop in ESA. Kerala has already faced the impacts of Coca Cola in Plachimada that has extracted the natural resources of the villages and caused critical health issues. There shall be consultation with grama sabhas for any projects.
  2. Enact laws to regulate the below activities in entire area of Western Ghats:
    1. Regulate large scale buildings on slopes above 20 degree. Current criteria of 20,000 sq m is applicable for cities in plains. This needs to be reduced and only smaller buildings shall be allowed in Western Ghats. Hill Area Conservation Authority’s guidelines of  Tamil Nadu could be a good starting point. Stringent building code, land use for operating earth movers, slope stabilization practices for construction purposes need to be implemented. This gives room for using available material for housing for small farmers. 
    2. Tourism shall be regulated by studying carrying capacity and ensuring there are defined cap on the number of people congregating. Tourism industry needs to ensure they are following environmental sustainability principles of Water, Energy and Waste usage and handling.
    3. Hotels, resorts shall be regulated and considered as orange category and shall be operating by implementing building code and regulations that ensure solid waste management and waste water management that are not polluting our waterways. 
    4. Any business activity in Western Ghats shall provide 80% of local people as employees.
  3. Enact laws to support local livelihoods in Western Ghats:
    1. All agriculture, farming, small business, handloom, cottage industries shall be encouraged in Western Ghats. Govt to aid in procurement and marketing at Panchayat levels.
    2. GI tags shall be ensured for shade grown coffee, pepper, turmeric, indigenous rice varieties, cardamom from Western Ghats in the global market.
    3. Conservation of large old growth canopy trees in private lands through Carbon credit mechanisms/ loans against standing trees initiatives.
    4. Payment for Ecological Services (PES) needs to be implemented supporting local people who are conserving the sacred forests, private forests, landscapes, hills, streams, indigenous trees, medicinal plants, local medicine.
    5. Plantation of bamboo and cane on private estates to be encouraged with support on local procurement by the Government.
    6. Minimum support price for paddy to conserve wetlands and leverage of NREGA for paddy harvesting and bunding work.
    7. Increase compensation for crop loss due to Climate Change, Human- Animal Conflicts.
    8. Subsidies for farm ponds for paddy, vegetables and increase land area under cultivation through self-help group loans and subsidies.
    9. Encourage small-scale agro based industries for unique crops like jackfruit, wild mango, jamoon etc.
    10. Ensure land slope management for steep slopes are done at the panchayat level by encouraging local species like Bamboo and other native grasses. 

 

 

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References

  • Carbon Sequestration Potential of the Forest Ecosystems in Western Ghats - Dr. TVR
  • Relief and Climate in South Asia : The influence of the Western Ghats on the current Climate pattern of peninsular India.
  • CSE India, Scientific American, WRI ,SANDRP  Pic courtesy:  India Today
  • Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel