Eco-Mess so unding alarm bells in the western ghats

Locals unhappy with the large-scale deforestation say it will affect natural rainwater flow, and have taken the Foundation to court.
A stretch of the Western Ghats. (Photo | D Hemanth, EPS)
A stretch of the Western Ghats. (Photo | D Hemanth, EPS)

The disaster unfolding in Joshimath was waiting to happen, sooner rather than later, given the untrammelled development, deforestation and tunnelling for roads and power projects. The story of Joshimath in Uttarakhand is not restricted to the Himalayas, degradation is visible in the Eastern and Western Ghats and other mountain ranges too. The Western Ghats, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has lost over 20,000 hectares of rainforest over the past two decades. Environmental experts have already sounded alarm bells on the frequent landslides and floods in Kerala, and more recently Kodagu, where entire villages were swallowed up as land parcels were displaced. Each monsoon signals climate change and there is a large-scale displacement of wildlife forced out of shrinking habitats. The main causes are mining, sand quarrying, building of roads and tourism projects. The authorities continue to sanction projects and the development lobby rides roughshod over rules and clearances. The environment-livelihood quarrel continues, with the government having rejected the Kasturirangan report which proposes 37% of the Ghats should be declared eco-sensitive.

A new worry for Karnataka is the degradation of Nandi Hills, a tourism hotspot in Bengaluru’s backyard, and home to resorts and tony housing projects. Farmers are selling out to realtors, who are building holiday homes in the foothills. The government has planned a ropeway project to attract more tourists and sanctioned the construction of a spiritual centre by the Isha Foundation on 10 acres of land. Locals unhappy with the large-scale deforestation say it will affect natural rainwater flow and have taken the Foundation to court. It is said to be in contravention of the Thippagondanahalli Ordinance 2004. Two monsoons ago, there was a landslip in the Brahmagiri range, and the road to Nandi was washed away. It was the first such eco-disaster here, the result of illegal sand mining and clearing of forests.

Instead of paying heed to ecologists, the government has accelerated degeneration by giving a boost to religious tourism, the new money-spinner. The irony today is that Nandi Hills, once the origin of six rivers and drinking water source for Bengaluru, now faces an acute shortage of water, and there are plans to pump treated water from the city to the hills.

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