Save Western Ghats

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Western Ghats: The Worst is yet to come?

The unprecedented calamity that struck most part of Kerala and Kodagu (Coorg) in Western Ghats has evoked strong feelings about the way governments and politicians enticing its supporters to chase the dream of development eventually leading to the destruction of fragile mountain range of Western Ghats.

This has brought back the discarded Gadgil Report to the centre of debate, as the most affected areas were almost same regions that were supposed to be declared as Ecologically Sensitive Areas in Kerala and Kodagu.

 It is impossible to compensate the death 370 lives and financial loss of more than Rupees 30000 crores. The silver lining is the way deluge cemented the bonds of humanity, especially the participation of youth in relief and rescue operations.

The damage and loss to property is beyond measurement and the psychological trauma faced by the people will live with them forever. Individuals and communities will have to rebuild from scratch with the hope for a better future.

What are the factors that led to such a disaster?

 Looking at the monumental financial and social costs, it is very important that the society needs to ask who should be held accountable for this disaster. Addressing these questions and finding answers is one way to avoid such disasters in future.

The highlands of Western Ghats are the water towers as they are the main catchment of major rivers that feed the southern states.

These catchment forests were opened up, for development projects like expanding tea and coffee estates, expansion of urban areas and construction of holiday resorts.

 Kerala lost 4 lakh hectares of forests and 2.5 lakh hectares of wetlands over last six decades for developmental purposes.

The illegal stone quarrying and land excavation has led to 2500 landslides across Kerala and Kodagu that forced the rivers to change their course. The loss of tree cover that holds the rocks and soil is the main reason for landslides across Kerala.

Obviously the decline of the natural capital base is one of the basic reasons for erosion of resilience capacity of Western Ghats both in Kerala and Kodagu.

The water management of the dams with the sole objective of power generation has also led to sudden release of water resulting in the present disaster. This got compounded by unbridled encroachment of flood plains, with Kochi airport being built on the wetlands of Periyar River.

 How to build the resilience?

-         Protection and conservation of remaining forests and flood plains and other water bodies

-         Review of the existing Dams, ban on construction of new dams

-         Change form financial governance to ecological governance with participation of local people and institutions

-         Need to go back to the WEEGP report and find ways to implement the recommendations while showing how HLWG report is totally inadequate to deal with the looming crisis in entire range of Western Ghats

Recognised as one of the 18 bio diversity host spots, this is the only area in south India that has tropical forests. Like the forests of Amazon forest in South America, Western Ghats play a major role in mitigating the impact of climate change, and are known as the ‘lungs of the world’.

If we do not address the issue with urgency, the business as usual approach and the dependence on parochial mindset of political parties is bound to create the worst scenario across entire Western Ghats in future.

We need to draw lessons from the disaster in Kerala and Kodagu and set policies that build the natures capital.

The undersigned want to see a paradigm shift in the planning, management, approaches and implementation of projects in the Western Ghats, which are:

1.     The Governments of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu & Kerala to constitute a Western Ghats Ecology Authority as suggested in Feb 2010 by the Save Western Ghats Movement in Kotagiri.

2.     To go back to the drawing board and review all recommendations made by the WGEEP – Gadgil Report.

3.     Given the massive investments of infrastructure in the Western Ghats there seems to be little of investments in natural corridors, buffers and other ecological priorities.

4.     A Civil Society – Government Partnership on Western Ghats taking into account all the work, campaigns, research, advocacy done in the past and looking at future conservation and development priorities, especially in the context of Kerala and Kodagu floods.

5.     Need for Detailed consultation at the panchayat level for Ecological Sensitive Area demarcation, taking into account Forest Rights Act – especially Community Forest Rights, river flows, existing dam structures and other linear projects.

6.     A 5 year time bound implementation plan of the 51 districts in the Western Ghats through innovative mechanisms, bottom up and top down to get the necessary convening powers that are needed for passing legislation, allocation of budgets and making rules and acts.

Please endorse this petition and urgent call:

1.     Appiko/Chipko Movement, Sirsi, Karnatka appiko@gmail.com 

2.     Keystone Foundation, Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu  kf@keystone-foundation.org

On Behalf of Save Western Ghats Movement, 2nd October 2018

   

 



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