With growing industrialization and urbanization, man’s greed over the environment has increased. Keeping this in mind, the Western Ghats- an important natural resource- have been protected against further destruction and politicization.

In the capitalistic way of development (modernists are calling another people friendly name ‘market economy’ instead of capitalism), exploitation of the available resources is a part of development process. They give first preference to human beings than the environment. Even though western countries now advocate for sustainable development, the industrialization in their countries was the first and foremost reason for the destruction of the environment.

The carbon emission from the industrialized countries is not under control and is still causing the depletion of ozone layers over the atmosphere of Antarctica. Increased vehicle population is another cause of apprehension. The unlimited usage of a natural resource like crude oil and the subsequent atmospheric pollution and carbon emission it causes are the main concerns. India and China are now blindly following the west and are adding their contribution in the destruction of environment. Due to increase in temperature over the years or due to global warming, Himalayan glaciers which is the only source of various rivers in the highly populated Asian countries, is melting more than ever before. This may cause flood in the coming years. All rivers will disappear once the whole glaciers are melted out. More than half of India, China, and other SAARC countries will be mostly affected. 150 million people will face the after effects and the world may see the biggest migration in the history within next few centuries.

Banasuran Hills Human or Environment: What should be given preference?

Banasuran Hills, Western Ghats

UN and its policies

The United Nations understanding the depth of the issue started many programs through its various wings for the protection of environment. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established with a motto of ‘Environment for Development’ in the year 1972 is taking some effective steps for the protection of environment among its member countries. UNESCO, another arm of the UN has announced the inclusion of 39 serial sites of Western Ghats on the World Heritage list in 2012 after prolonged pressure from India since 2006. The wholehearted support of India government was in question – whether it eyed at the money UNESCO may offer in the form of financial aid or the sincerity in protecting the environment from further destruction – made lots of debates in India. The intervention of the Supreme Court, establishment of National Green Tribunal, etc. also contributed in the decision making process. All the environmentalists offered blind support and raised their voice whenever there was a delay in taking supportive decisions. At the same time agitations and protests were going on in those parts of India from 2011 onwards for protecting the rights of the inhabitants of the ecologically sensitive areas demarcated by the Government. The Supreme Court in its latest verdict asked the government to form a new regulator for approving environmental impact assessment for all future projects. Environmentalists and some political parties hailed this initiative where as it came as a blow to the Ministry of Environment and Forest.

Gadgil Committee and Kasturirangan Committee

Gadgil committee, appointed by the union government for suggesting the steps to be taken for protecting the Western Ghats, submitted their report which has become the main cause of agitation now. Political parties, religious organizations and local groups were in constant struggle against the report and hence central government has appointed another committee headed by former ISRO chief Mr. Kasturirangan. The recommendation of the said committee was approved by the government and it is in the implementation stage. The environmentalists consider Kasturirangan report as a diluted one and think that it is soft to the illegal activities happening in the region. But both the reports campaign for banning activities like granite mining, mining of metals, use of chemical pesticides, construction of dams for hydro electric projects, converting forest lands for agriculture purpose, starting red category industries, etc. Minister of Rural Development Mr. Jayaram Ramesh still has the opinion that the Gadgil committee report is to be implemented instead of the Kasturirangan report. Protests are there against this report too which is creating headache to the state governments in the region. Illegal mining which is the main cause of the depletion of forest still continues in all the major states. The Western Ghats region which is considered as the greenery of India is facing severe threats. Kerala, Gods own country, once occupied with more than 60% forest is now owns less than half. Untimely droughts, heavy rains due to cloud bursts, landslides and mudslides due to heavy rain, etc. are happening frequently. The wildlife in the Western Ghats region is also facing threat due to the destruction of forest. The region is the natural habitat for lots of endangered animal and plant species of which some of them are very near to extinction. So protection of the sites is very much important for the well being of all living things. If we care about our future generations then it is the right time to act for protecting the available forests.

Environmental issues in the Western Ghats region – State wise

Goa and Karnataka – The main threat to the environment in these states is the Illegal mining in the forest areas. The ascending and descending of the BJP reign in the state of Karnataka is closely related to the mining of iron and bauxite in the state. Arrest of Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh also has close connection with illegal mining in Karnataka by a company owned by his family. In the new Congress government which came to power in 2013 in Karnataka, one minister resigned from the post over the allegations of his involvement in illegal mining. A few of the former ministers arrested for the same cause recently. Supreme Court imposed a ban on all mining practices in Goa due to many allegations.

Maharashtra – A recent study showed that Maharashtra holds the number one position in the country in respect of illegal mining. Coastal areas in the state are also facing threats due to the pollution from factories working in the areas. The nuclear power project in Jaitapur will be a big threat to the ecology of coastal areas of the state affecting thousands of fishermen and mango farmers in the region.

Kerala – Granite quarries, sand mining, conversion of forest areas to farm lands, etc. are the major threats for the environment in the state. Madhav Gadgil recently mentioned in a speech that about 1700 unlicensed granite quarries are working in the Western Ghats region of Kerala alone. Landslides/mudslides in the hilly areas in eastern districts are occurring frequently in the monsoon time killing hundreds of people and causing destruction of agricultural lands, houses and roads. The main reason for the same is the unscientific farming practices followed by a large number of people in these areas.

Tamilnadu – As the state is located in the other side of Western Ghats, forest constitutes a small percentage in the total area of the state compared to others. The available forests are almost protected. Illegal sand mining from the river basins, pollution caused by the increased vehicle population, industrial pollution, etc. are the major threats faced by the state. As the state is deprived of water, they are very cautious in using the available resources.

All other states in the Western Ghats region have plenty of water resources which are wasted due to careless usage considering it as surplus. But the climate change is making some unexpected alterations in the timing of monsoon and the quantity of rainfall. So it is foolishness to think that it will always remain as surplus.

Common Threats

Western Ghat forest Human or Environment: What should be given preference?

English: The forestland of India’s Western Ghats is a target for conservation, which must involve local communities.

Tourism lobbies are making significant contribution in the destruction of forests in states like Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. Filling of wetlands for commercial purposes is creating threats to the environment in all these states. Farm lands and paddy fields in suburbs are facing extinction due to the addition in value it creates when it is converted into commercial lands. Remember the recent controversies related to DLF and Robert Vadra. Projects for new airports, export processing zones, industrial parks, industrial corridors, etc. are also contributing highly to the depletion of paddy fields which in turn reducing the production of food grains and thus affecting our food security. The urbanization in these states without making facilities for solid waste management, sanitation, etc. affected the quality of life of people dwelling in the areas. Formation of slums in the suburban areas is considered as the byproduct of urbanization. All major cities in these states possess almost the same threats. Usage of strong pesticides for agricultural purpose is a threat to the dwellers of the respective areas. The quality of air, water and food are badly affected due to the overuse of pesticides. Kasaragod, the northern district of Kerala is a living example of the disaster created by the usage of harmful pesticides in plantation lands. It is considered as one of the world’s worst pesticide disasters. Many people became critically ill. Hundreds died. It is still haunting us on our right to health, safe drinking water, food, and to live.      

Human or Environment

All the governments and political parties in the country have given first preference to human beings than environment till the early years of 21st century. Market economy and neo-liberalism created a new world market irrespective of the natural boundaries of the nations. The market economy made humans greedy and forced him to do anything to create wealth. The cruelty towards the nature and the living environment has converted humans to wild animals. In a sense wild animals are better than humans as they are not greedy. The whole scenario needs to be changed. We have to consider our future generations too for which we have to give first preference to the environment. A quality and protected environment is the right and necessity for the growth and development of the whole mankind and the survival of its future generations.

UNEP in their website writes – “Pollution and over-exploitation of the world’s resources are increasingly compromising our own wellbeing and quality of life. The planet cannot afford to continue taking this path. A transition towards a more sustainable lifestyle is crucial to enable future generations to have access to their fair share of resources.”

By Vinod Kuroor

Also See:
Who Stole our Monuments?, Who Stole our Monuments?, By Smitha Krishnan [CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Image Source:By Dhruvaraj S (originally posted to Flickr as Banasuran Hills) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons,

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