The Western Ghats have been exposed to excessive human interference for past few years. Though a certain amount of forest was lent for agroforestry in this hot-spot of biological diversity, people have crossed the margin which resulted in irregular rains and floods in the region. In the past few years, south-west of India was prone to floods and landslides though the amount of rain received by these parts is relatively less.
According to environmental activist Dinesh Holla, “the shola grassland that grows in the hills of Western Ghats play a major role in holding the rainwater that flows down the hill. The roots of the grass hold the rainwater and this water is stored in the catchment area. Hence only a limited amount of rainwater joins the river. Since the shola forest is being cut down for different purposes like setting up the power plant, resorts, commercial crop plantation etc the water flows down the hill causing soil erosion and flooding as well. In 2018, Kerala and Madikeri faced major floods due to this.”
“Last year, several parts of Western Ghats suffered forest fire. This became an opportunity for estate owners to extend their land of agroforest. There are even instances where the estate owner sprayed chemicals on the grassland so that they catch fire during summer and they could occupy the reserved forest land. Also, the forest fire burns the seed that would germinate into another tree. Hence the reserved forest area is somehow devastated by the people. Though only certain parts of Western Ghats are allotted for development purpose, a large area of forest has been encroached.”
Shivananda Kalave, a water conversationalist, says, “There are several endemic plants grown in Western Ghats. In order to make deforestation look convincing to the public, the industrialists claim it as compensatory deforestation. The suitable climate necessary for the growth of the endemic plants is only found in Western Ghats. Hence deforestation is still a damage with or without compensation.”
“There are several plants in Western Ghats that boost our immunity but people decide to destroy forests under the pretext of development, employment and what not. What kind of unhealthy society are we building by destroying this forest which is beyond price?” he laments.
In concern with floods, Karve says that the absorption rate of the forest in Western Ghats is 10- 12% rest of water flows down and joins the river. Since the highway has been constructed in between the forest, the water does not have a proper path to flow. Also, after immense clear cutting of the forest, the rate of absorption has declined to 4% which means the amount of rainwater that would be flowing to the river will be unendurable, resulting in floods.
The section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980 states that a prior approval is necessary from the central government before de-reserving the reserved forest. Several parts of Western Ghats also belong to the reserved forest. Also, according to the National Forest Policy 2016, climate change should be given importance in forest management and community management plans. The Ministry of Environment and Forest appointed the Western Ghats ecological expert panel under the chairmanship of Madhav Gadgil. The committee divided the area into three based on their ecological sensitivity. But the report faced great criticism as the people assumed it to be against farmers. Later the Kasturirangan committee was formed to examine the report of the Gadgil committee. However, this report favoured the corporates. As only 37% Western Ghats was considered an ecological sensitive zone and rest of the land is available for development projects.
Nature has the power to generate as well as destroy. Even after facing the destruction caused by floods, humans have not learnt any lessons from the past. Clear cutting still takes place in Western Ghats, people still go there for road trips and throw plastic. This is just the beginning of karma to human society for the destruction we have caused. Destruction of nature will be nothing but us digging our own grave.