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About a year ago, environmentalists working in different voluntary organizations in South
India-Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, met in Goa to discuss the
environmental problems of this region and share their experiences.

These discussions brought out the important role played by western Ghats in India’s environment, cultural life and economic development. The Western Ghats which rise in the hills
of Southern Tamil Nadu stretch out into a range in Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. All the eastwards flowing rivers of South India originate in the Western Ghats. The high rainfall region of these Ghats contain an invaluable wealth of flora and fauna. They provide the raw material for an innumerable number of artisans in the region. They contain the most varied kind of Horticultural gardens of Rubber, Coffee, Pepper, Cardamom, Areca and Coconuts. In short the Western-ghats are a backbone for the economic well being of the entire southern part of India.

However, in the last few decades, the Western Ghats have been exploited beyond reasonable limits under the pretext of ‘development’. The hydroelectric projects built to support a chain of heavy industries have destroyed lakhs of hectares of pristine forests. Vast tracts have been felled to provide raw materials to industries. Mining activities too have had their toll. These areas continue to be barren even after all mining activity has ceased. Valuable trees have been felled
to meet the needs of the rich urban dwellers and for export. In the long term these activities will convert this unique ecological niche into a desert. Further there is fear of major earthquakes on account of the gigantic dams built in this region. The faults oserved under the Supa dam are indicative of this danger. Together with this, bad management of the forest resources by the people, such as attempts to cultivate hillslopes, deforestation to meet the fuelwood and green manure needs and unrestrained grazing by cattle, goats and sheep have further degraded the Western Ghats.

In Karnataka, the environmental problem has been compounded by the presence of several  factories that have been polluting the environment on a massive scale-along the Tungabhadra,
at Ammasandra, Nanjangud, Karwar, Mangalore and Bhadravathi. The Kali, Varahi and Sharavathy Projects have caused large scale destruction of green forests. Thousands of
hectares of village common lands have been transferred to Karnataka Pulp Wood Ltd.,
a Joint Sector Company for raising of eucalyptus plantations for industrial needs. On the
pretext of energy short fall, a nuclear power plant is being planned at Kaiga. The problems
of people uprooted from the sites of these various schemes have multiplied over the years
and spread from Ramanagar to Kadra, Kodsalli and Kaiga.

After seven months of preparation and involvement of over 150 voluntary organisations Save the Western Ghats March began on November 1st from the southern tip at Kanyakumari and the northern tip at Navapur towards Goa.

The organizers hope and are working towards identifying concerned young men and women
who can be important part of this people’s movement and can fecilitate the organizing of the affected people who could take initiaive in planting trees on large scale, try to bring pressure on the authorities and preventing further denudaion of the Western Ghats and also bring the Wastelands to productivity to meet basic needs of rural and tribal people especially the poor e.g., fodder for cattle, fuel for cooking, raw material for artisans, small timber for housing, green leaves for manure and fruits.

As one organiser said “the basic responsibility of preserving and sustaining the environment
and ecology is best left to the people, bureacracy and state playing the role of an
enabler (Not produer, as the forest bureacracy has tried and failed). Only awakened
people can act as safeguard against further destruction of environment and also regenerate
the barren areas to meet their basic needs”.

The experiences of the Marchers from both ends will be shared in the two day meeting on January 29 and 30, 1987 in Ponda, Goa. This is followed by a three day Conference, where the Marchers together with other Environmentalists and concerned persons will evolve a long term strategy and possible organizational framework for the Central involvement of people for restoring and sustaining the ecological balance for the Westerm Ghats.

The effort which is taking the shape of the people’s movement has the potential to contribute not only to the saving of the Western Ghats, a significant and basic part of the ecology of the Southern India but also save the whole country and world from the ecological disaster.

Kumar. Kalanand Mani
and Sri. S. R. Hiremath

C/o. Samaj Parivartana Samudaya (SPS)
“Ashadeep”. Jayanagar Cross. Saptapur,
Dharvad-580001,   Karnataka.