Vallesh Kaushik was wearing a breathing mask attached to a handheld plant pot as he stood at Bengaluru’s Town Hall on Saturday. He was one of the activists who held a protest in Bengaluru against the state and central governments for destroying the core of the fragile ecosystem in Western Ghats in the name of development.
Vallesh said, "If governments don’t start realising the importance of conserving the environment, then children in the coming generations will have to walk with mobile oxygen cylinders as there won’t be any fresh air to breathe."
The protesters demanded that the authorities immediately stop three controversial utility projects and save more than 3.7 lakh mature trees from being culled. This, at a time when only 5.6% of the state’s area consists of forest land.
The activists say most of these trees are endemic to and endangered in Western Ghats, and several of them would be over 400 years old.
Other than trees, they said these projects will not only destroy the rich biodiversity consisting of forests and water sources, but also lead to fragmentation of wildlife corridors such as the ones for tigers and lion-tailed macaques.
The activists also maintain that none of the projects are based on a sustainable vision as they are techno-economically unviable.
The three projects are the Sharavathy Valley Pump Storage Power Plant; Power transmission line from Chattisgarh to Goa; and the expansion of Kaiga Nuclear Plant.
BT Lalita Naik, a former minister and social activist who took part in the protests said, “They should allow the Sharavathi river to flow but they are restricting the natural stream. Moreover, they are cutting trees which is causing imbalance. There are landslides and nearby roads are caving in. With the large scale tree felling, the topsoil has eroded which is causing all sorts of problems starting from agricultural losses to increasing salinity in the water.”
Ullash Kumar, a naturalist addressing the gathering said, "They are pushing all this in the name of development but as a result of the nuclear plant, people as early as in their teens are getting cancer. But the government is not acknowledging studies done by NGOs neither are they conducting any study themselves. While there might be power for some, the people there will suffer indefinitely."
He added, "Unfortunately, there are no lessons learnt. We have seen for the Yettinahole project, while there is not much water in the catchment itself, they want to lay pipes. One thing is clear that it is only for the contractor and timber mafia. Sadly, these projects are being cleared from the top and the state forest department doesn’t have much say in it."
The activists feel if these projects are allowed, it will lead to disaster in the form of even more erratic weather events, destroy habitat, livelihoods, and wreak havoc for wildlife, and indigenous communities.
They also said that all these projects go against the grain of present trends internationally, as most countries are now moving away from such centralised projects, towards decentralised solutions.
Following the demonstrations, the activists under the banner of the United Conservation Movement, are set to meet Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa on Monday and submit a memorandum.