Bengaluru: Karnataka State is prominently in opposition to the implementation of Kasturirangan report on Western Ghats. Series of meetings have been held by ruling BJP top leaders. The Cabinet has also decided to oppose the report. It has been claimed that the move would affect lakhs of people. A three-day bandh has been planned from July 27.
However, scientists and environmentalists claim that politicians are misguiding people. They explain that there is no proposal as such in the report that will affect livelihoods of people. They charge that politicians are fooling people to protect their hydel projects, resorts, mining activity and other commercial set-ups at the cost of the forest ecosystem crucial for not only Karnataka but for entire south India.
The report proposes that 37 per cent of the total area of Western Ghats, which is about 60,000 square kilometres, should be declared as eco-sensitive area (ESA). Out of this, 20,688 square kilometres will fall in Karnataka state covering 1,576 villages.
The report has recommended prohibition on mining, quarrying, setting up of red category industries and thermal power projects.
Politicians are claiming that there will be loss of livelihood for lakhs of people. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, former CM B. S. Yediyurappa, Home Minister Araga Jnanendra have pledged that they will not let the Union government declare Western Ghats as eco-sensitive zone.
Dr. T. V. Ramachandra, Energy & Wetlands Research Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), talking to IANS, questioned if the ones opposing even understand what the report is all about. Without understanding the issue, it has been converted into a political circus.
“No one has read the report. There is no harm caused to livelihoods of people. Some activities such as industries and resorts will be stopped. The whole issue has been turned into an emotional and election issue. None of the politicians understand what is there in the report. Let them prove on which page it is recommended that the agricultural lands will be taken back?” Dr. T. V. Ramachandra questions.
Ecologically sensitive regions help in conserving fragile ecosystems which would sustain livelihoods. It is for people and the approach helps the community through the sustenance of water, better pollination, high yield of crops, and minimal human animal conflicts, he explains.
This emphasises the need for maintaining ecological integrity to sustain the livelihood of the dependent population. 65 per cent of our population depends on farming for livelihood. Protecting their interest is vital for the healthy economy of our nation, he says.
“Individuals with vested interests are rather interested in their agenda of pilfering vital ecosystem goods for their benefits and deprive millions of dependent populations in peninsular India their right for adequate water,” Dr. Ramachandra explains.
Environmentalist and activist Dinesh Holla, talking to IANS, directly charged that state and Central governments are moving ahead for destruction of nature for their selfish gains. Even after the Central government’s declaration to implement the Kasturirangan report, the opposition of the state can only be termed as ulterior motive and oppressive.
The Kodagu, Uttara Kannada, Dakshina Kannada, Udupi districts are experiencing landslides and floods as home stays, mining, hydel projects, resorts have encroached upon the forest covers of Western Ghats.
The farmers, villagers and tribal people of the region are kept in ignorance and made to believe that they are going to lose their livelihood.
“We have been asking for the official Kannada translation of the recommendations of the Kasturirangan Report on Western Ghats. So, real awareness is created.”
“The campaign is being created by vested interests that the villagers would lose their livelihood, this manufacturing of opposition to Kasturirangan Report on Western Ghats could only be termed as lowly. The people who come together can give a befitting answer by raising the opposition,” Dinesh Holla explains.
“If Western Ghats are safe, entire south India will be safe. But, the forest region of Western Ghats is being harmed. The ecosystem is suffering every day. Why were these landslides, floods, and cyclones not witnessed 5 years ago? It is the result of pilferage of forests for resorts, hydel projects. The awareness should be created in every home by parents and at every school by teachers on the destruction of Western Ghats,” he says.
The study by IISc explains that the Western Ghats (Sahyadris), extending from 8 degree N to 21 degree N latitudes and 73 degree E to 77 degree E longitudes, is one among 36 global biodiversity hotspots, one among the eight unique ‘hottest hotspots’ of biological diversity, and also one of the primary the 200 globally most important ecological regions.
It is a continuous escarpment spreading from Gujarat to Kerala, covering an area of 160,000 sq km, which constitutes only 5 per cent of India’s geographical extent.
The Western Ghats are endowed with perennial river networks and function as a water tower for peninsular India, ensuring water and food security, and sustaining the livelihood of millions of dependent populations.
The Western Ghats has been experiencing land degradation and deforestation due to higher loss of forest cover since Independence with unplanned developmental activities and fragmented governance.
The evergreen forest cover has reduced from 16 per cent (in 1985) to 11 per cent (in 2018). The decline in native forests is due to unplanned developmental activities including unscientific afforestation of monoculture plantations (Acacia, Rubber, Eucalyptus, Teak), etc.
In the past two decades, higher instances of floods and landslides were noticed due to abrupt Land Use and Land Cover (LULC) changes across the Ghats, especially in Kerala and Karnataka.
The soil’s water-holding capacity has been affected by LULC changes, resulting in flash floods across the states. The Fragmentation analysis highlights that the interior forest cover has reduced from 37.14 to 25.01 per cent over the past three decades.
The loss of 12.2 per cent interior cover with an increase of 11.3 per cent non-forest cover from 1985 to 2018 represents an escalation in fragmentation by affecting local ecology.
Currently, the interior forests are mainly situated in protected areas across the region. The decline of the contiguous interior forests affects endemic taxa and habitats, resulting in higher instances of human-wildlife conflict, the study says.
Dr. Ramachandra says that the double standards of the government of India cannot be understood as it is pushing the report only after the intervention of the Supreme Court, “We all demand the court to implement the report. People need to understand that disaster is already happening in the country.”
However, political activism is very much visible regarding the issue. All MLA’s from the Western Ghat region of the state have conveyed a meeting. They are claiming that the development of the region will suffer.
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai had earlier clarified in the virtual meeting with Bhupender Yadav, Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change that classifying the Western Ghat region as a sensitive zone will impact the life of people of the region and affect their livelihood. He also added that the proposal is opposed by the people as well as the state government.
The ruling BJP government had further decided against the implementation of the Kasturirangan Committee report in the Cabinet after elaborate discussions in this regard.
The protestors have planned to file petitions from villagers to the Ministry of Environment against the report. There are also plans to meet the Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change by the end of July.
However, scientists say that if south India is to remain safe, the Western Ghats should remain safe. The arduous political and legal struggle against the 1.3 billion dollar coal powered Cogentrix power plant to produce 1,000 MW in Dakshina Kannada District in Karnataka resulted in its exit in late 90’s.
It is to be seen if the ruling BJP government in Karnataka and at the Centre as well as the local groups move ahead over the issue in terms of safeguarding Western Ghats and ensuring livelihoods of inhabitants.
By M. K. Ashoka