Older than the Himalayas, the Western Ghats are recognised globally not only for its biological diversity but also for its geological, cultural and aesthetic significance. Therefore, it’s not surprising that Unesco is actively thinking of declaring some parts of the Ghats as a World Heritage Site.
Of late, civil society too has been doing its bit to save the Ghats. In April 2009, ahead of the polls, the Save Western Ghats Campaign (SWGC) released a ‘Citizen’s Manifesto’ with the aim of impressing upon politicians of the 32 parliamentary constituencies that fall in the Western Ghats region, the importance of protecting the Ghats from unsustainable development. The manifesto, which outlined the issues affecting the region, demanded protection for the environment and the constitution of a Western Ghats Conservation Authority, was a mammoth exercise that included 85 organisations, and 8,000 people from the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
The SWGC, an old popular movement, was revived during a meeting in Goa in February. The resurgence was triggered by the need to preserve this ecosystem not only from industrial and development encroachment, but also from the Ministry of Environment and Forests’s (MoEF) inaction.
Our leaders must understand that the ‘growth at all costs’ policy is no longer acceptable, especially in ecologically sensitive areas like the Ghats. It is time that politicians considered a new model of progress and development, that is sustainable, smarter, more efficient and responsible.
By all accounts, our immediate future is bleak thanks to global warming. In the Ghats, farmers are already reporting the negative impacts of climate change. If forests continue to be cut in the Ghats, the network of rivers that sustain life in peninsular India will also dwindle. If we continue to push ecosystems to limits of tolerance, we are bound to suffer the consequences: catastrophic human displacement, social unrest, food security and water scarcity.
A shift in perspective is now imperative: preservation of the environment should be the new priority. This will be difficult since the MoEF itself doles out Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) clearances without rigorous investigation and proposes to dilute laws that protect the environment. This state of affairs has forced another group of 500 environmentalists to write a letter to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Environment and Forests under the banner of the Campaign for Environmental Justice, India, on March 23, urging them to suspend notification of those proposed amendments of environmental laws.
Isn’t it pathetic that we need to protect the environment from the MoEF? On the brighter side, this is forcing the green lobby to think about an All-India Green Front, the only way left to save India’s environment.
(Carmen Miranda is former Director of the South Asia Programme, Panos, UK)