Campaigns on Issues related to Environment

Context

Research studies indicate that every minute 100 acres of forest are being destroyed. 52 million acres of dense forest is being destroyed by man every year. During the first half of the last century the forest cover was 30% of the total land. But it was reduced to 12% during the following 25 years. And the present forest area is about 5% of the earth. 

The threat to natural resources today does not come, as the State, Forest Department and some environmentalists would have us believe, from the local forest dwelling and rural communities who deplete forest cover and destroy the environment through ecologically unviable forms of agriculture, indiscriminate foraging for firewood, grazing of cattle or any such life sustaining activity. The threat comes from a ruthless model of progress and development that has reduced the environment from a source of survival to a resource for domination, exploitation and control; a shift in worldview that has destroyed perhaps forever the deep interconnectedness between humanity and other life forms in nature, each of which sustained and were interdependent on the other.

Our concern with this genocidal core of the modern development paradigm has been expressed at many levels, one of which was Parisara (environment) a forum that was initiated in the eighties to respond to the many environmental disasters that threatened the poor and the marginalised - the Bhopal gas tragedy that killed thousands and left behind scars that will affect generations to come; the Kaiga power plant in Karnataka that not only displaced forest communities but will release toxic radiation which can destroy any living being it will come in contact with; the Narmada Bachao Andolan that has become symbolic of the resistance to Big Dams….In all these CIEDS has played a supportive role and networked with the many organisations that have got involved across the country and in the State.

Our current involvements

In this context we are at present involved with the following issues:

a. Save The Western Ghats Campaign

The Western Ghats is a unique mountain range which spreading from the southern tip of India to Tapi river in Gujarat runs through Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharasthra and Gujarat. It is not just a common hill range; but is a treasure of natural evergreen thick forest that shelters diverse varieties of rare flora and fauna including medicinal plants. Out of the 2700 varieties of medicinal plants that exist worldwide, around 1200 are available only in India out of which 70% are in the Western Ghats region. Thus it is nature’s gift to the people of this region. 

During an international summit of bio-diversity in 1976 some 18 regions at the world level had been listed and declared as very delicate and important to maintain bio-diversity,of which Western Ghats was one. Accordingly as recommended by the UNESCO, India reserved 5.3% of the land to preserve and develop bio-diversity. 

Till the late forties this treasure of nature was very safe from human destruction. But with the advent of the project of Development all this changed. Dams for irrigation, hydro electric projects, mega mining projects, the nuclear power plant at Kaiga and other industrial projects have uprooted and ruined the evergreen dense forests in the Western Ghats regions.

During 1997, the Government of India had invited applications at the international level to mine in an area of 32 lakh hectares in Karnataka of which more than 60% of land came under the Western Ghats region. This gave rise to massive agitations from among the common people throughout the State in which we also took an active part. Yielding to this pressure the Government took back its proposal. But again in 1999, the Central Government wanted to renew the license of the Kudremukh mining project , which has been in existence there for the last 33 years. This gave rise to the struggle that intensified once again. We once again played an active role in the joint struggle. 

Finally in November 2002, the Supreme Court of India passed a judgment saying “No more mining activities in Western Ghats”. Accordingly the Kudremukh mining company is moving away from the Western Ghats. This was our second victory in the struggle for a more harmonious and sustainable environment. 

This was however not the end of the story. In 2001, 602 square kms of land was demarcated for a proposed National Park that was sought to be created by evicting the tribals out of their home in the forests. This gave a new focus to the campaign which was once again successful in 
that in 2003 we were able to get an order from the Supreme Court stopping the evictions. But the daily harassment of the tribals from the Forest Department continues. 

Apart from extending solidarity through participation in the agitations, public meetings and programmes organised in that region our specific contribution to this campaign has been in terms of bringing out good and relevant literature including pamphlets, publications and newspaper articles, particularly in Kannada on all these issues. 

For instance we have extensively researched on and published a comprehensive book on the issues raised by the Campaign in the larger context of development that has been very well received not only by the public but also received a State Government academy award for 1999-2000.

The Kali Bachao Andolan

The Kali Bachao Andolan (Save the Kali campaign) is another issue that has emerged from the Save the Western Ghats campaign. Kali is one of the major rivers of Karnataka that takes its birth in the Western Ghats. It is one of those few rivers that has been dammed the maximum number of times. Six mega dams have been constructed across this river during the last 25 years for hydel and irrigation purposes. And the seventh dam is now being planned. While the six dams have already submerged thousands of hectares of forestland, the proposed seventh dam will again destroy the remaining dense forest. 

Apart from the destruction of the forests and land, the other urgent concern is that of the immense pollution of the Kali River by the West Coast Paper Mills and its effluents that have caused the large scale deaths of cattle and human beings who have consumed the river water, which is the main source of drinking water. Towards bringing pressure on the Government to withdraw this project and mobilise public opinion against it, another agitation has been initiated in the region as also in Bangalore where the power centre for the State lies. 

While in the case of Save the Western Ghats Campaign since the site of the actual agitation is quite distanced from Bangalore, our participation has revolved around solidarity work, in the case of the Kali Bacho Andolan we have had a more direct institutional involvement as we have taken the responsibility to coordinate the campaign in Bangalore along with ESG (Environment Support Group) and the Parisara Samraksha Kendra, the environmental network working in the Western Ghats.

As part of this we conducted a workshop on this issue at our office in Bangalore in September 2003 in which NGO’s from Bangalore and from the Western Ghats participated as also members of the Government and administration who listened to the experiences of 20 affected people. The testifiers included farmers whose lands have been rendered fallow by the poisonous river waters, those whose healths have been affected and those members of the grazing community (Gouligas) who have lost entire herds of cattle that are their only source of survival. Following this meeting, pressure was put upon the management of the Mills which then responded by agreeing to compensate 40 of those whose health and livelihoods has been affected and to supply pure drinking water from the upstream.

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