The Western Ghats, as we all know, is the complete range of mountain from Tapi in Gujarat to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, with a length of around 1600 kms and an approximate area of 1.6 lakh sq.kms., along the Indian West Coast. These Western Ghats are also known by other names such as Sahyadris in Maharashtra, Nilgiris in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and Annamalai and Cardamom hills in Kerala. However, the actual area under forests is just around 30 percent. But yet, this 30 percent area of the Western Ghats determines the climate and seasons of the entire Indian peninsula. It is also important to note that the three major rivers of South India that is Krishna, Godavari and Kaveri - all originate from the Western Ghats. These rivers were mostly used to irrigate the valleys for paddy, areca nut, various vegetables, fruits and other crops that were once consumed mostly by the local communities of the region. The steep slopes of Western Ghats were ideally utilized for constructing dams for power generation. And these rivers flow in both the opposite directions, i.e. west and east. It is also proven that the Western Ghats are much older than the Himalayas. And these Ghats represent geomorphic features of immense importance with unique biophysical and ecological processes.
The region is highly rich in biodiversity and is one of the 12 major biodiversity hot spots not just in India, but at the global level. The Western Ghats contain more than 40% of all species of plants, fish, birds and mammal species found in India. Many of these species are highly endemic. However, it must be noted that the exploitation of these rich Western Ghats began with the British Raj which brought in railways and major road network. And this led to large scale felling of trees to meet the demands of such development. In addition to this mining (Iron, Manganese and Bauxite) is another major threat to the fragile ecosystems of the Western Ghats. Illegal mining of iron ore is a booming business due to increase in price of iron in international markets. And illegal mining results in much higher pollution, deteriorating water and air quality. Mining also affects the groundwater due to sub-surface & underground water contamination. Another important issue is the presence of Sand Mafia across the Ghats. The fish industry also has its own set of problems. Traditional methods such as use of poison and electricity etc are used till date, to easily catch some exotic species. This has reduced the fish population and their availability. Additionally, monoculture plantation practices have also added to the problems. Large scale plantations of Eucalyptus & Acacia that were started in 1980’s have proved this and much more deterioration across the Ghats.
And with all this so-called development the rich ‘Biodiversity’ in India’s most iconic mountains - the ‘Western Ghats’ - is facing huge threats. Be it forest loss, encroachment, conversion, contamination, pollution, etc. The report released by IUCN, (International Union for Conservation of Nature), at the UN climate change conference in Bonn, Germany, says pressure from human population in the Western Ghats region is far greater than that faced by many protected areas around the world. The new report - ‘IUCN World Heritage Outlook - 2’, which assesses, for the first time, changes in conservation prospects of all the natural World Heritage sites, warns that climate change will probably exacerbate a system already under pressure and has the potential to impact the large scale monsoon & climate processes which the Western Ghats influence. It also put the hills in “Significant Concern” category in its new outlook in the conservation prospects of natural World Heritage sites.
It is clearly evident and proven by scientists that changes in overall climate and seasons are mostly due to deteriorating environmental conditions across the globe. And this needs to be addressed on war-footing. Else we will continue to experience floods and landslides like that in Kerala & Kodagu recently. These situations will be regular and frequent features if not addressed immediately. And it’s a shame that the Karnataka State Government has once again denied implementing the recommendations of either Gadgil or the Kasturirangan Commission Reports.
It is high time that the government realizes that the natural resources belong to the people and it is not their personnel asset to be used according to their whims & fancy.. People need to question the government, which, in the name of development, is carrying out such heinous crime time and again.....