Let’s learn lessons before it’s too late

The hilly districts of Kerala and Karnataka have seen extensive destruction of nature through deforestation, construction, quarrying and monoculture plantations.

The loss of lives and devastation caused by excessive rainfall and flooding in the states along the Western Ghats and the Himalayan region should be seen more as consequences of unchecked attacks on nature than as results of the occurrence of unusual natural phenomena. The impact of rains and floods in hilly and mountainous regions is different from that in the plains. In the higher ranges of the Western Ghats states of Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra and in the mountainous areas of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the damage was more on account of landslides, caving-in of roads, collapse of houses and other constructions and the sinking of entire stretches of land. No doubt there was excessive rainfall, caused perhaps by climate change, with the showers that usually come down in weeks pouring down in a day or a few hours. But most of the devastation was caused by the inability of the earth to absorb the rains, and that is because of the weakening of the soil caused by human activities in the past many decades.

The hilly districts of Kerala and Karnataka have seen extensive destruction of nature through deforestation, construction, quarrying and monoculture plantations. Districts like Palghat, Wayanad and Kannur in Kerala and Kodagu and Chikkamagaluru in Karnataka bore the brunt of nature’s fury that came as landslides, cave-ins and earth collapses. After the devastation, the Gadgil Committee report, which had warned against the mindless assault on the Ghats’ ecology and made recommendations for its conservation, has come into the focus again. The report was once rejected and even denounced, and the Kasturirangan panel was set up to dilute its recommendations. Even those diluted recommendations have not been implemented. The price of neglect and callousness is being paid now. The Gadgil report had recommended designation of the entire Western Ghats as an ‘Ecologically Sensitive Area’ and regulation of activities like construction, mining and industry for sustainable development. Many others have also made similar recommendations. The question is whether we have learnt enough lessons from recurring devastations to take the recommendations seriously and consider implementing them.  

Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have also experienced the same kind of catastrophe as human activities in the two states have broken and altered the fragile Himalayan ecology. The building of infrastructure and the construction of roads and tourism complexes, tunnels and hydropower facilities and rampant mining have put pressure on nature, especially when these are done by blasting and cutting through the mountains. Increasing traffic adds to the pressure. The needs and wants of human life and development should not be detrimental to nature. Otherwise, we will have to pay dearly for our follies and excesses. 

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