Abuse of nature

Abuse of nature

The landslide that wiped off a tribal village, Malin, in Pune district of Maharashtra last week, causing the death  of over 100 people was caused by the torrential rains that lashed the region for many days.

But it has been pointed out that the abuse of nature which has been taking place in the hill slopes for many years may have actually prepared the ground for the disaster. The catastrophe is the worst to happen during this year’s monsoon and the death toll could go up further.

Other villages in the vicinity are also gripped by fear because they  might now be facing a similar threat. Malin and other villages are located in  the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats.

The fear is that persistent and increased human activity may have caused or at least aggravated the environmental risk faced by them.

Deforestation and levelling of ground for cultivation have been cited as two major reasons for the disaster. A preliminary report by the Geological Survey of India has pointed to this, though the GSI is yet to finalise its report on the causes of the disaster.

Environmental and social activists are more categorical and said that geological findings, which do not take into consideration the intrusive human activity in the hilly areas, would not fully explain the catastrophe. As part of an employment generation scheme thousands of trees were cut down in the hills recently.

Many hills have been levelled for cultivation and heavy machinery and equipment were used for building roads. All this could have heightened the vulnerability of the hills and the villages.

Such a situation exists in other areas of the Western Ghats also across five states from Maharashtra to Kerala. The entire forest region has seen encroachments, commercial exploitation of land and resources and other forms of human activity which have reduced bio-diversity and made the ranges susceptible to disasters.

The Gadgil committee report which recommended preservation of a large part of the Ghats as ecologically sensitive areas was ignored.  There is much opposition to the Kasturirangan panel report also which diluted the earlier committee’s recommendations.

The repercussions of unthinking assault on nature will be serious and it will be difficult to recover and rebuild what is lost. The message conveyed by the Uttarakhand flash floods last year has been repeated by the Malin landslide this year.