Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Environmental and Ecological Disaster

Mining blow to Western Ghats:

The beauty of the Western Ghats, one of the last few remaining densely forested areas in the country, may soon be relegated to the realm of the picture postcard. In what could bring forth one of the worst ecological disasters in years, the state government has approved 49 mining leases for excavating iron and bauxite ores in the eco-fragile Sindhudurg region.

Sindhudurg, incidentally, has the highest green cover in Maharashtra (49%) and was declared the first eco-tourism district in the country in 1997. Worse, 32 of these mining permits have been given in the Sawantwadi-Dodamarg zone, which has the highest forest cover within Sindhudurg, and is an integral part of the wildlife corridor between Koyna sanctuary in Satara, Radhanagari wildlife sanctuary in Kolhapur district and the Anshi-Dandeli tiger reserve in Karnataka.

The biodiverse region, with perennial streams and rivers, is home to a spectrum of wildlife, such as the leopard, bison and deer. Forest officials say there have been at least four tiger sightings as well in the past two years.

Four mines are already operational in the area. On Wednesday, TOI visited one, which began work last year, in Kalane village in Sawantwadi block. The sharp colour contrast at the site said it all: a long red strip of a half-slit mountain jutted out like an ugly sore amid the lush green canopy around it. Huge earth movers dug deep into the mountain and gouged out red mud, which was transported by a trail of dumpers to processing units.

Stalin D, project director of Vanashakti, an environmental NGO working on mining-related issues in Sindhudurg, explains that the mining companies use open-cast processing to excavate iron ore and bauxite. "The mountains have to be slit open and dug up to extract minerals lying deep beneath the soil," he says. "What remains are huge craters filled with unpotable water full of heavy metals. The miners never bother to refill the hole or replant native vegetation to regenerate the eco-system."

Before operations began here, the villagers of Kalane had passed a gram sabha resolution stating that they did not want mining, as it would destroy both the rich flora and fauna and their agricultural farmlands. "The villagers in Kalane objected at the two public hearings, as the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report prepared by the mining firm did not mention the existence of perennial water bodies, rivers and the reserve forest in the adjoining Ugade village," says Sawantwadi-based environmental activist Dr Rajendra Parulekar. "It is shocking that based on the false EIA reports, mining companies got licences to operate here." Activists say that there were physical skirmishes between the mining companies and villagers, and that the latter were threatened.

Wildlife experts and botanists say that if other mining companies start operations at the proposed sites, the mountains will become huge craters in just a few years from now. "Just look at how miners have destroyed stretches of Goa along the Sahyadri, where instead of green mountains we have ugly open craters now. The government should revoke all these licences if it wants to protect its rich natural resources, and instead encourage eco-friendly business models," says Goa-based environmental activist Claude Alvares, who has been advocating zero mining in all eco-fragile zones in the country.

Interestingly, Alvares believes that mining companies are increasingly eyeing Maharashtra ever since the ministry of environment and forests imposed a moratorium on issuing fresh mining leases in Goa till its government came out with a comprehensive mineral policy. "It is a well-known fact that the mining mafia is controlled by politicians from both states, as the money involved is huge," he says.

According to Parulekar, there is an estimated Rs 25,000 crore of mineral wealth in Sindhudurg. "Lured by this, if mining continues unabated, it will have tragic human consequences as well," he says. "Devoid of rivers and agricultural land, farmers will have no option but to leave their once fertile and self-sufficient villages. The result will be urban migration and ensuing poverty and misery."

Is money and the so called "Development" of mankind, all that matters to humans? Don't we care to look at the aftermath of our heinous crimes towards nature? Extensive Mining, Construction, Unplanned expansions of city boundaries, Razing down hills and jungles, is this all we can do?

Is'nt it time to pause and look back at what we are doing and look forward to what repurcussions might occur due to this misuse of our natural resources that is happening all around us? We are killing earth and its eco-system at a very fast pace now. Within months massive constructions wipe out huge expanses of greenery and hills, all in the name of development, all at the cost of nature.

One thing we are guarenteeing for our future is slow death of our planet. Because ultimately mankind can't survive on its own on earth. It needs all elements of nature, be it plants, animals or natural structures.


My Favourite Books

  • The Best Laid Plans (1997)
  • Morning, Noon and Night (1995)
  • Nothing Lasts Forever (1994)
  • The Stars Shine Down (1992)
  • The Sands of Time (1988)
  • Windmills of the Gods (1987)
  • If Tomorrow Comes (1985)
  • Master of the Game (1982)
  • Rage of Angels (1980)