After Rajasthan, Karnataka is India’s second driest state. Large tracts of Karnataka’s north-eastern and central parts are semi-arid. 156 out of 176 taluks in the state were declared to be affected by drought in 2018.
The Western Ghats, which serves as the water tank of the state, gives rise to 65 rivers. Bhima, Kalasa Bhanduri, Kaveri, Hemavathi and Netravathi are some of the rivers that these forested hills have given birth to. These rivers have nourished lakhs of people who have lived in the state for generations now. For our future generations of farmers and city dwellers to survive, and to sustain our economy, the trees in the hills must be protected. According to the High-Level Working Group report, Karnataka State has over 20,668 Sq Km covered under Western Ghats.
But unfortunate as it is, the Western Ghats is under threat. Soon, about 21 lakh trees all over Karnataka will have to be cut down to facilitate various linear and invasive projects that have been planned. It is frightening for the common man to even imagine what is in store for them in the not-too-distant future.
Policy makers have perhaps failed to understand the deep connection between the well-being of humans and trees. Several projects have been continuously undertaken by successive governments for supposedly the benefit of society. But the fact that has been overlooked is that such massive deforestation is capable of destroying water sources for all.
To fight against what is impacting our environment in such an ugly way, a people’s movement called United Conservation Movement is attempting to initiate action and awareness for the conservation of the state’s forests and to save people from a horrid future with no water.
United Conservation Movement (UCM)
In a significant development, people from across Karnataka from all walks of life have joined hands to create a united forum to protect the future of the state’s water.
A press release that UCM shared with The Logical Indian read, “The single-minded purpose of the United Conservation Movement, will be to protect our trees and water sources from ill-conceived, intrusive, big projects that have the potential to destroy our water security. Besides which, we will collaborate with and encourage the Government to look at future- friendly, people-friendly models of development. UCM was conceived during the ‘Save Bandipur’ campaign. It now is rallying support to sensitize the sanctity of retaining Western Ghats as it is.”
Concerned citizens from all over the state gathered at Bengaluru’s Freedom Park on February 23 this year to support UCM. “At the Event, environmentalists, amid concerned citizens, will share their expert views on many pressing ecological issues and make plans on how to protect the trees and water of the Western Ghats, for the future,” the press release read.
Across all the proposed projects, a total of 21.55 lakh trees will be impacted. With a population of just 5.5 lakh people, five NH road widening projects will affect over nine lakh trees in Kodagu district. For NH road widening, railway line, irrigation and tourism projects, 7.23 lakh trees will be affected in Shimoga district. Railway lines contribute to over 10 lakh trees.
Several of these projects are passing through critical elephant corridors, and the state’s national treasure troves such as wildlife sanctuaries like Kudremukh, Mookambika, Sharavathi and Pushpagiri are being disintegrated.
Across complete and ongoing projects, about 7.54 lakh trees are impacted, with Shimoga district topping the list with more than four lakh trees.
Memorandum sent to Chief Minister of Karnataka
Deforestation can lead to landslides and floods in the hill districts, and prolonged droughts in the near future because of the low water holding capacity of our deforested soil. There will be failure of crops and increased human-animal conflicts. The memorandum has been shared with the CHief Minister as well.
“The recent report by GSI and WRI after the devastation in Kodagu district concludes that heavy and intense rainfall along with the ill effects of human-induced land use changes in exacerbating the impacts of such a rainfall. The wisdom contained in various national/international reports such as that from Prof. Madhav Gadgil’s Committee; Dr Kasturirangan’s Committee; periodical reports from Western Ghats Task Force; relevant reports from IISc, UAS; IPCC etc. can be ignored only at our own peril.
On behalf of a large group of people living in Belgaum, Kodagu, Shimoga, Uttara Kannada districts on Western Ghats, Karnataka, we would like to bring to the notice of the Ministers of the state govt, a representation as attached to this mail, highlighting various associated issues and an appeal. We are gravely concerned about the destruction and devastation of over 21 Lakh trees across various large- scale projects impacting the water and food security of Karnataka. 4 Laning of National Highways are going to divide our farmlands impossible for us to commute through the deadly highways. Request you to instruct the concerned authorities to arrange for diligent discussions at the appropriate levels of the govt. on the representation, and to urgently consider protection and enhancement of natural wealth in the state,” the memorandum further read.
UCM has appealed that following “principle of avoidance”, axing of old growth trees for National Highway should be avoided. They have appealed that a law be enacted to stop building flyovers that will eventually cater to other neighbouring states sacrificing watersheds.
Further, they have appealed that any further widening of highways where existing highways through Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks cannot be bypassed be stopped.
“Acknowledge these projects as environmentally unsustainable and strategize sustainable practices of public infrastructure development. Strengthen the Karnataka tree act to include protection for the IUCN red-listed tree species. All hill districts across Karnataka to have separate law with higher level of protection and have landslide proof two-lane highways as seen in countries abroad. All hill districts shall be excluded from further damming for water storage,” the memorandum read.
The Logical Indian stands with United Conservation Movement and urges authorities to take their appeals seriously so that our future generations can live a healthy life.