Karnataka’s Scramble For Reforms: Are We Turning Back The Clock Of Development?

By Neeraj Ramchandran:

It was déjà vu all over again for the people of Karnataka as they recently stood as mute spectators to the felling of nearly 2000 trees for the widening of the Hubbali-Dharwad highway. This unfortunate turn of events brought back memories of similar activities in the past which culminated in the famous Appiko movement led by Panduranga Hegde. In a state which has shame-facedly found itself mired in meandering projects time and again, this move was seen as forthcoming, but not in the reckless way it has materialized of-late.

Forest clearance rules stipulate that about 4000 new trees are to be planted along the new widened highway. Far from doing that, the proponents of the project Karnataka Road Development Corporation Ltd (KRDCL) and State Forest Department have not even prepared a blueprint for the avenue plantation and are busy playing the blame game. Considering the fact that this project is due for completion in April 2013, it looks like this proposal will stay a proposal in perpetuity.

The area where deforestation had been carried out had been home to trees like neem, tamarind, pipal, mango and banyan which were over 100 years old and blessed with an enviable girth of 5 metres. Moreover, the soil in those areas is so sensitive that not long after the felling of trees, laterization will set in and render the soil unfit for cultivation in the future. Accompanying this will be the loss of breadth and diversity of medicinal plants, wildlife habitats and corridors, livelihoods for the local people and the spectacular forest cover of the Western Ghats. The local communities of Karnataka and some NGOs have been fighting against the merciless hacking of forests for a very long time and have been successful on some occasions in getting statutory protection against the felling of trees. But the concerned authorities keep finding ways to bypass the laws, stating non-demarcated forest areas as an excuse.

Any development that is unsustainable amounts to self destruction. The growth model being followed by the state government of Karnataka will inevitably come undone in the near future. With the ostensible lack of connect between the government and the public, it is imperative that suitable institutional mechanisms like E-governance evolve, so as to give a forum to the public to express their grievances and prevent the government from deviating away from the desired growth trajectory. Also, civil society groups could partner with the local people and selected environmental experts to function as observers to put forward all central concerns which have been shrouded and starved of the sun. John Muir had famously said, “In every walk with nature one receives much more than he seeks”. The choice is ours whether we want to walk with nature or trample it.

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