The Western Ghats & Save the Western Ghats Movement
The Western Ghats, a mountainous ridge running parallel to the west coast of India’s ancient peninsula, has a rich and intriguing history. They boast an age of 150 million years, and have seen variations of climate that have helped shape the soils and geology of the hills. The escarpment of the Western Ghats probably formed during the Gondwana supercontinent break-up and is the faulted edge of the Deccan Plateau.The mountain chain called Western Ghats, covers 51 districts in six states, is one of the 34 global biodiversity hotspots and is home to many indigenous communities. These mountains are under tremendous pressure and the ecology and environment is at stake.
Western Ghats passing through six states, from Gujarat to Tamil Nadu, for the fact that it neutralizes no less than 4 million tonnes of carbon, equivalent to 14 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. The diverse forests ecosystems in the region neutralize 10 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions neutralized by the country’s forests. It had also put on record that the region has been one of the important global biodiversity hotspot that harbours 1,741 species of flowing plants and 403 species of birds among a vast variety of reptiles and large The Western Ghats, older than the Himalayas, are among 34 Global Hotspots of Biodiversity in terms of flora, fauna, landscape and ethnicity.
They are full of bewitching locations that are home to known 4,050 types of plants, 121 species of frogs, 508 bird species, six types of turtles and terrapins, 87 species of snakes, 63 types of lizards and a wide variety of large mammals.
Save the Western Ghats Movement
Peaceful Society, a Gandhian voluntary organization convened a 3 days consultation in October 1996 of prominent environmental activists from South India, mostly from the 6 states of the Western Ghats to discuss and develop common programme. The discussions brought out the important role played by Western Ghats in India’s environment, cultural life and economic development. The consultation decided to organize a foot march to understand the state of the Western Ghats and highlight ongoing degradations. The consultation entrusted Peaceful Society to take all necessary step towards organising the dream environmental March in 1987.
The Save the Western Ghats Movement was a landmark event in environmental activism in India since its beginning in 1986. And foot march was organised in 1987-88 with the participation of people from every sections and active involvement of more than 150 organisations.
:- Central Organisation Committee (COC),
:- National Advisory Committee (NAC),
:- Regional Coordination Committee (RAC),
:- State Coordination Committee (SCC),
:- State Advisory Committee (SAC)
:- Route Committee,
:- Resource Materials Committee,
Kumar Kalanand Mani was Central Coordinator of the COC which had overall responsibility of organising Save the Western Ghats March. Others coordinators and members were Jagdish Godbole (Pune), Pandurang Hegde (Sirsi-Karnataka), A Mohan Kumar (Trichur-Kerala), Dinananth Manohar (Nandurbar –Maharashtra), S. Venkatachalam (Arcot-Tamil nadu) , SR Hiremath (Hubali – Karnataka), Claude Alvares (Mapusa-Goa), Archana Sadhale (Pune-Maharashtra), Vijay Paranpye (Pune-Maharashtra), Jay Samant (Kolhapur-Maharashtra), Subramanya Hegde (Sirsi-Maharashtra), Satish Chandra Nair (Trivandrum –Kerala), Sugatha Kumari (Trivandrum – Kerala), Civic Chandran (Trichur – Kerala), N Baddusha (Waynad-Kerala), Ulhas Rane (Mumbai), Dinkar Gangal (Mumbai), Ajit Patil (Sangli- Maharashtra), Sudhakar Khomne (Ahmednagar – Maharashtra), Anant Hegde (Sagar –Karnataka) .
National Advisory Committee was led by Prof. Kailash Chandra Malhotra, Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta and noted environmentalist, anthropologists, as its chairman. Other distinguished members were Dr. Anil Agrawal, CSE, Delhi, Darryl D’monte, Mumbai, Thomas Mathew,WWF, New Delhi, Vijay Tendulkar, noted script writer, S.R. Ramaswamy, Prof. Madhav Gadgil, Indian Institute of Environmental Science, Bangalore, Erich Bharucha, Anupam Mishra and LT Sharma were the members of the national advisory committee.
The key objectives of the March.
- To generate awareness among the people about ecology and related issues like denudation of forests, afforestation, preservation of wildlife, natural resources etc.
- To learn more facts about the nature and extent of ecological destruction of the Western Ghats.
- To expose young research scholars to the filed situations so that they could view the problems in a wider perspective.
- To bring together all voluntary organisations working in the region, to formulate some long –term common ecological programmes.
- To encourage academic institutions, involvement of schools in the area to take up afforestation and other ecologically relevant programmes.
The foot march along the Western Ghats was divided into 2 parts up to Goa border which was further divided into 4 groups in Goa. The March started simultaneously from two extreme ends of the Western Ghats on Nov. 1st, 1987 and moved towards Goa. The Northern March was started from Navapur in Dhule District of Maharashtra whereas Southern March started from Kanyakaumari in Tamilnadu. The Northern March was flagged-off by noted environment campaigner and one of the founder leaders of Chipko Movement Shri Chandi Prasad Bhatt. The Southern March was flagged-off by noted Gandhian and historian Shri Dharmpal. 76 years old Mr. Fadake was the oldest marchers of northern team whereas 6 years old Gautam was the youngest marchers of southern team. In average 50 marchers were always with the both team . Total 169 men and women from 11 states and 4 countries were in the March. The March finally reached Goa on January 27th and converged into huge Save Western Ghats Conference at Ramnathi. The March concluded in a public meeting at Panaji on Feb 3rd, 1988.
The activities like public meetings, village level meetings, filed observations, survey, seminars, rallies, orientation camps etc were organised during the March.
The Marchers surveyed 55 villages in Maharashtra, 2 in Goa, 52 in Karnataka, and 7 in Kerala during the March to Panaji, Goa. The finding of survey was drawn by a competent team from Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. The main findings were;
- Decrease in rainfall, late onset of the monsoon, its shorter duration, increased incidence of thunderstorms and rise in temperature.
- Scarcity of drinking water for human and animal consummation during summer. Only 16.7 % villages in the north and 8.5 % villages in the south had availability of drinking water throughout summer.
- Reduction of groundwater table and availability of water for agriculture and horticulture.
- Reduction of forest resources such as fodder, fuel, food, timber and medicinal plants etc.
- Siltation of tanks, drying up of rivers and springs, invasion of eupatorium.
- Increase in monoculture plantations of teak , rubber, eucalyptus,
- Changes in agriculture practices and crops pattern.
- 9 types of animals or birds were in domestication by the hills people.
- In addition to organic manure like Leaves, cow dung, compost, chemical fertilisers were also in use in agricultures.
- Waterfalls, rivers, wells, canals, springs, tanks, tube-wells were the sources of irrigation.
- Coconut, areca nut, pepper, cardamom, cocoa, coffee, cotton, cashew, tea, rubber, tobacco, sugarcane, banana, betel leaf, pineapple, lemon, and eucalyptus were grown as commercial crops
- Deforestation led to damaging crops by wildlife species such as the Indian elephant, wild boar and monkeys.
- Deforestation led to the appearance of new human, animal and plant diseases.
- Forest-fire and destruction of sacred groves.
- Encroachment in the forest areas and illicit tree felling.
- 6 types of domestic fuel were in use in surveyed villages. These included firewood, agricultural waste, cow dung, biogas, kerosene, and electricity.
- Increase in displacement, migration and food crisis,
- All types of pollution,
- Damming rivers, establishment of medium and large scale industries, mining, tourism and putting atomic plants were big concerns among the public in general and in particular among the activists and environmentalist.
The March converged into Save the Western Ghats Conference where they shared their experiences. Prof. Madhav Gadgil, chairman of the technical committee presented post march follow up plan which led to the discussion about the direction of saving the Western Ghats. The Conference took following decisions;
- Support & strengthen people’s movement in Kodgu, Karnataka against Galebeedue Tea Estate due to which 5000 acres of forest land was threatened.
- Support & strengthen people’s movement against Nylon 6,6 of Thapar group in Goa
- Support & strengthen people’s movement against Narmada Sagar and Sardar Sarovar project.
- Firm demands were made to scrap the river projects like upper Bhadre project in Chikmaglur, Sharawati Tailrace project in Uttara Kanara, Haggnur dam in Mysore, Pullingam Dam in Kerala , Naiya dam in south Kanara.
- 5) Requesting Maharashtra govt. not to allow Dahanu Thermal Power Plant that would threaten the ecological fragile zone.
- Requesting Maharashtra govt not to venture to displace 50 villages in Shirpur taluka of Dhule dist.
- Requesting Kerala govt to organise public debate on energy crisis in the state.
- Opposing the move of central and state government of distributing surplus degraded forests, grazing lands to the industries and institutions in the name of social forestry. The conference urged that instead such land / forests must be given to the land less and poor for their subsistence.
- The government should inform public about each development plan and seek their consent.
- Urged Tamil Nadu govt not to convert virgin Janmam forests of Gudlur for other commercial plantation.
- To undertake afforestation activities at mass scale to ensure more green cover.
- It was decided to continue with existing structure of the March in the name of Save the Western Ghats Movement but it should not be registered. This arrangement was proposed till Nov 1988.
Slow but steady progress of SWGM
The SWGM was a landmark event in the environmental sector, on par with other key movements like the Chipko Movement and later on the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
Due to defunctness of 2nd committee, situation compelled Peaceful Society to continue with the role of maintaining contacts, communications with all stake holders. A vehicle Yatra was organised in 1998 on completion of 10 years covering northern part of the Western Ghats up to Goa . At the end of vehicle Yatra , 2nd conference of SWGM held on 1-3 November 1998 at Peaceful Society, Goa. The conference took stock of ongoing work by various groups on various issues pertaining to ecology and environment of the Western Ghats. Thereafter SWGM was registered under Society’s Registration Act 1860 in Goa under the chairmanship of Kumar Kalanand Mani.
The real boost emerged in 2008 when Mr. Pandurang Hegde of Prakruti, Sirsi, Karnataka along with Dr. Sudhirendar Sharma, Ecological Society of India, New Delhi approached Peaceful Society to rejuvenate the movement and to convene 3rd Save the Western Ghats Conference. Both took pain and re-established contact and communications with existing environmental organisations and individuals working on various issues of the Western Ghats. The 3rd conference was organised on 08-10 February 2009 in Peaceful Society campus. The conference demanded in one voice for the formation of a Western Ghats Authority to ensure that all developmental work must be governed under one roof. The follow-up meeting came with the proposal of requesting Government of India for constituting a study team to bring out present status of the Western Ghats, recommends for its sustainable and comprehensive conservation measures and mechanism of governance. Accordingly Mr. Jayram Ramesh, minister of Environment and Forest, Govt. Of India was invited to inaugurate 4th conference of Save the Western Ghats Movement held on 18-20 February 2012 at Keystone, Kotagiri in Nilgirti Hills, Tamil Nadu. The minister responded the demand for a panel to study the Western Ghats and recommend about conservation and governance mechanism positively which resulted into formation of Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) headed by Dr. Madhav Gadgil, environmental scientist. Dr. Gadgil was one of the members of Advisory Committee of Save the Western Ghats March in 1987-88 and had presented a follow-up plan in post march conference held at Ramnathi, Goa.
The development after the submission of report by WGEEP to the Govt. Of India was quite negative. The government refused to accept the report whereas prior this the SWGM was divided into two fractions at 5th conference held at Moodbidri in 28-30 January 2011. Hereinafter some anti forces succeeded in spreading negative propaganda against the recommendation / report of the WGEEP. This also provided needed ammunition to the state governments for adopting anti stands. The two fractions failed to do mass mobilisation in favour of the report. Again Peaceful Society came forward and organised 6th conference of SWGM in its campus on 17-18 November 2012. It was commemoration conference on completion of 25 years of SWGM. One key objective of conference was to the WGEEP report and recommendations and to create positive propaganda in its favour. This was followed by a planning consultation at Wildernest in association with Sahayadri Research Centre, Prakruti and Peaceful Society. The fraction group did organise another conclave at Mahabaleswar as mark of 25 years of the Save the Western Ghats Movement. Meanwhile Goa Foundation, an associate of SWGM moved a joint petition before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), New Delhi requesting implementation of the WGEEP recommendations. In between the govt. appointed another commission as Western Ghats High Level Working Group (WGHLWG) headed by Dr. Kasturi Rangan. Almost after 2 & ½ years, the union government did express before the NGT to implement the recommendations of HLWG. The SWGM continued propagating in favour of WGEEP but at the same time also propagated the HLWG because it was accepted the government. PS did organise series of consultations in every state of the Western Ghats . Sarvanan, Aranya, Aurovile and core marchers of SWGM took lead in organising 30 Years of SWGM at Kanyakumari on 1 Nov 2017. 7th Conference which was organised by Peaceful Society on 1-3 February 2018 as mark to 30 years of SWGM. An ad-hoc committee was formed in this conference with three advisors, three Coordinators as Coordinators collective and two representatives from each state as SWGM Presidium. The mandate of this committee was to organise state level conferences, formation of state level committees and to organise 8th Conference where presidium shall be constituted formally. The conference resolved to pursue the governments in Western Ghats to expedite implementation of recommendations of HLWG and to mobilised people of WG. The progress is that the union government have issued notification for Sensitive Ecological Zone as per the recommendation of HLWG . Peaceful Society took initiative to convene consultation of SWGM to understand the notification and suggestions are submitted by the associates accordingly for a better, comprehensive notification. The consultation held on 1-2 February 2018 at Peaceful Society had decided to organise a national level conference as Ecological Festival of Western Ghats in October 2018. Osai, Tamil Nadu 8th conference of SWGM on 1-3 February 2019 at Coimbatore as Ecological Festival of the Western Ghats at Shrikrishna College campus, Coimbatore. More than 1300 participants from the states of the Western Ghats and other parts of India attended.