Image: Shankara Subramanian /Flickr
The Dr.Kasturirangan Report 1 on protecting the Western Ghats has become a victim of vested interests trying to protect their personal interests. If Kodagu is to save itself from ecological catastrophe it is imperative that the powers that matter in Kodagu wake up and take measures in this direction. The recent cloud burst in Uttarakhand and subsequent natural disaster in the form of massive inundation should make many of us in Kodagu sit up and take notice.
First and foremost, there is a need for dividing the entire district into suitable eco-sensitive zones for better planning of the relevant developmental works, which are usually carried out without taking due cognisance of the geo-physical nature of the local terrain and topography. It is because of this that the hills are subjected to frequent landslides, often throwing normal human life out of gear.
The rampant and reckless felling of trees since 2007 and replanting of a single species (Silver Oake), which can be felled and sold at will, has left large tracts of Kodagu denuded making them further prone to ecological disasters like landslides.
The sand mafia in Kodagu is equally responsible for huge landslides along the banks of the rivers due to indiscriminate, haphazard and unplanned sand mining. This mafia caters predominantly to the growing requirement of huge quantities of sand in Kerala. As Kodagu’s rivers have steep river banks they are prone to not only cause the banks to collapse, but also pave the way for huge landslides in the future. In recent years we have had our share of these landslides. The stone quarrying mafia in Kodagu is another story. The Cauvery Sene is fighting half a dozen cases against those illegally quarrying in Kodagu. All these quarries are supplying hundreds of loads of granite stones to builders in Kerala and Mysore.
The unregulated and unabated building constructions and callous hill cuttings have further endangered the local ecology and human life. The development of human habitations in almost every part of the hills and the subsequent interference with the forces of nature has further distressed an already fragile ecosystem. Building of ‘huge mini’ (sic) Vidhana Saudhas at the edge of hillocks, overhanging State highways, permitting construction of resorts-sitting astride perennial streams, after flattening a couple of hills with heavy earthmoving equipment, as also creation of private water reservoirs by them, have further endangered the local ecology. The development of human habitations in almost every part of the hills, cutting roads and tracks indiscriminately to these human habitations and the subsequent interference with the forces of nature has further distressed an already fragile ecosystem.
Madikeri Urban Development Authority (MUDA) has blatantly and openly altered the Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP), falsifying government records. A CDP was already in existence since 2007 but this was altered and a new one prepared in 2012, to depict wrong physical features on Madikeri relief maps. The new CDP, thus was to facilitate environmental/pollution clearance from State Government agencies to convert pieces of lands belonging to powerful individuals.
These conversions, from Agricultural to either Residential or Commercial ,recommended by MUDA 2012- was denied by three previous governments since 2005. In 2012, 243 objections were filed for these conversions, which were throwing environmental/ecological/ pollution considerations to the winds. Field Marshal Cariappa General Thimayya Forum, Cauvery Sene, Coorg Wild Life Society, Kodagu Kshemabhivrudhdhi Sangha, Kodagu Moola Swaroopa Samrakshana Samithi, Kodava Samaja and ten Madikeri Kodava Keri Samajas, Basavanna Devara Bana Samrakshana Samithi, Valnur and Kodagu Ekikarana Ranga filed these objections. It is quite imperative that all the agencies concerned with the development and disaster planning in this eco-sensitive region, co ordinate their actions to save the Western Ghats from any impending natural catastrophe waiting to happen. The regulatory framework relating to building constructions and other develop-mental activities, as already in vogue, ought to be strictly enforced. The highest civil administrative authority in Kodagu should not only issue directives to the local municipal and rural bodies to ensure enforcement of the building rules and laws but also closely monitor its implementation.
It is obligatory and very necessary that the District administration issues a statement regarding what the Dr. Kasturirangan panel report says viz vis :
- Will encroachments by plantations, adjoining Reserve Forests, Game Sanctuaries, Tiger Reserves, Elephant Reserves be taken back from the encroachers?
- Will tree lopping and shade regulations within private Coffee Plantations be stopped?
- Will spraying of pesticides/weedicides and application of Chemical manure, in private plantations be restricted?
- Will pulping of coffee to produce washed Coffee, be stopped as it comes under Orange industry category?
- Will construction of private houses on private plantations, felling of trees in private plantations for bona fide use, be stopped?
- Will felling and selling of mature full grown timber, in private plantations be stopped?
As those of us who have read the report in detail know, the answer to all the above questions is ‘NO’. Private lands and encroachments regularized over past years will not be disturbed in any way.
The above mentioned are some of the concerns disturbing the local population who are pre dominantly dependent on the coffee industry. It is sad that politically motivated groups are spreading rumors that all the above is most likely, if the Kasturirangan Report is implemented. Hence they argue it is imperative that the implementation of this report be opposed vehemently and also organize a ‘Shut down’ to oppose it.
Ecology and Environment: Some Salient Points to be considered by people of Kodagu.
Western Ghat is a treasure trove of natural diversity. It is spread over 1,29,037 Sq Km, starting from Gujarat and running through Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala upto Tamil Nadu. The heavy rainfall and its isolation from the developmental activities of rest of the world allow promotion of local species so unique to this area. Between 1920 and 1990, 40 percent of the original vegetation cover in the southern region of the Ghats in Tamilnadu, Kerala and Karnataka was lost. Presently only 7 percent of the area is under primary vegetation cover. Latest agricultural practices, widespread, stone and sand quarrying, tourism and associated constructions have wreaked havoc in these ranges since two decades. The interstate relations as regards exploitation of natural vegetation on the Ghats being so complex, the Ministry of Environment and Forests constituted Western Ghat Ecology Expert Panel in March 2010 under Prof Madhav Gadgil, the founder of Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Sciences , Bangalore.
The panel was asked to assess the current status of the Western Ghats and demarcate areas which need to be notified as ecologically sensitive for their conservation, protection and rejuvenation. It was also entrusted the job of recommending the modalities for the establishment of a Western Ghats Ecology Authority under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. A professional body to manage the ecology of the region and ensure its sustainable development with the support of all states concerned. After obtaining extensive inputs from all concerned and carrying out field visits, the panel submitted its report to government in August 2011. But neither the states nor the government, made any attempts to have the reports translated and distributed amongst the local people. However the land-forest-contractor mafia, with the backing of vested interests kept spreading rumors and misleading information about the report of the panel.
Due to such lobbies fighting the report tooth and nail, the Forest Ministry was forced to set up another high level working group under a retired space scientist K Kasturirangan to study and modify the earlier panels’ report. The group submitted its report on April 15, 2013. While the Panel under Prof Madhav Gadgil had recommended that 67% of Western Ghats be considered as ecologically sensitive, Dr. Kasturirangan working group recommended that only 37% of the area including the already protected areas be notified as ecologically sensitive. The blanket ban on large hydro electric projects suggested by Prof. Madhav Gadgil is lifted by Kasturirangan to pave way for small hydropower projects (10 MW and below). The Kasturirangan working group suggested banning of any building in excess of 20,000 sq mtrs (or 2,15,276 sq ft). It discourages thermal power plants, railway lines and major roads. It also offers opposition to degradation of natural resources-land,water and air.
There are absolutely no recommendations against the interests of the farming/coffee plantation community, however the message being spread is that it is a development versus ecology fight, by vested interests.
If this report is implemented, Kodagu as a district will actually be saved from projects envisaged in the district for the benefit of our neighbouring state :
- 400 KV line work will immediately stop (so far 2500 trees have fallen and 22500 trees will fall that benefit Timber mills) and the Power grid corporation of India Ltd (PGCIL) will have to consider using the ‘D Line’ proposed by Col C P Muthanna or option to lay underground power transmission line as in Navi Mumbai, as proposed by Ravi Chengappa of Cauvery Sene thus saving the ecology of the district.
- The railway project so strongly proposed by Kerala MPs in Delhi, through Kodagu, to harvest another 50,000 trees to their starving Timber Mills will be a non starter. This railway line will in no way benefit Kodagu, but creates a short and fast route for Keralas travelers to other parts of Kranataka.
- The Four lane express way planned to run from Cannanore, via Bittangala, Gonikoppa, Thithimathi to Mysore is for the benefit of Kerala. Again hundreds of acres Forests and Coffee estates will shed at least 20,000 more trees effecting Kodagu’s weather.
- Sand mining is banned in Kerala. If any further sand mining is done in that state, the houses on river banks will soon be in the landslides. So their cheapest supply of sand is from Kodagu, and every day 50-100 twenty ton trucks are moving through Makutta gates. This will come to a grinding halt, and save our river banks which are on the verge of collapse. Stone quarrying for markets in Kerala too will slow down saving Kodagu’s hills.
- The Hills of Kodagu and the famous Jamma male’s and the forests along the Kerala border, where incessant illegal felling of Timber is rife will come to a full stop, as punishment for such felling in Eco sensitive zones will be imprisonment, due to contempt of Supreme Court Orders.
- Lavasa like townships, huge resorts, gated villa complexes planned on the periphery of Brahmagiri, Pushpagiri, Nagarahole and other Reserve Forests will have to be shelved. The major players in these ventures are our politically connected big wigs and investors from Kerala, Andhra, Haryana, and elsewhere. These will spell the death knell of small rivers, and pristine nature of our ecological treasures in Kodagu.
The article above gives a clear indication of why the Kasturirangan report is facing such stiff opposition from land-forest-contractor mafia, tourism -real estate mafia and the minig nafia. Added to this there is monetary and religious pressure 2 3 4 from across the border. All these factors have colluded to make, ‘saving Kodagu’s ecology’ from these self serving BANDH CALL experts extremely difficult.
Thus it begs the question is the forming of committee to oppose the Dr. Kastrirangan report and subsequent threats of a shut-down detrimental to the future of Kodagu, if so are the intentions malafide or bonafide?
Article Courtesy: CoffeeLand News . Edited with notes and links, by Dushyant Ashok
- Ministry of Environment and Forests – Part I – http://moef.nic.in/assets/HLWG-Report-Part-1.pdf , Part II – http://moef.nic.in/assets/HLWG-Report-Part-2.pdf ↩
- Church threatens to protest against Western Ghats report: http://zeenews.india.com/news/eco-news/church-threatens-to-protest-against-western-ghats-report_890314.html ↩
- Communists and Catholic church join hands, panicked Congress gets Sonia to pacify the church – http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/communists-church-catholic-church-upa-sonia-gandhi-congress/1/325326.html ↩
- Kerala shuts down over Western Ghats environment order –http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-11-18/thiruvananthapuram/44201375_1_kasturirangan-committee-gadgil-report-western-ghats ↩