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Concerns raised over decimation of green cover in Cauvery basin: NGT issues notice to southern states

  • Category
    Ecology and Environment
  • Published
    20th Jan, 2024

Context

A recent report found green cover has declined to 15,345 sq km from 28,154 sq km over past 50 years

A Growing Environmental Crisis in Cauvery basin

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has taken suo motu cognizance of a report by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) revealing a significant decline in green cover in the Cauvery basin over the past five decades. Notices have been served to Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala governments, highlighting the urgent need to address environmental challenges.

I.   Notices and Stakeholders

A.   NGT Action and Key Authorities

Authorities like the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change and the Forest Survey of India have also been notified.

B.   Suo Motu Action by Justice Prakash Srivastava

Justice Prakash Srivastava, acting suo motu, emphasized the severity of the environmental issue, categorizing it under environmental law.

II.  Cauvery Basin Deforestation: Alarming Statistics

A.   Green Cover Loss

The IISc report highlights a staggering loss of 12,850 sq km of green cover in the Cauvery basin between 1965 and 2016, with only 18% remaining as forested areas.

B.   State-wise Impact

  • Karnataka: 57% of green cover lost (9,664 sq km).
  • Tamil Nadu: 29% loss (2,905 sq km).
  • Kerala: 27% loss (279 sq km).

III. Impact on National Parks and Sanctuaries

 A.   Bandipur National Park

A 15.19% decline in forest cover due to development activities and forest fires.

B.   Nagarhole National Park

An 11% decrease attributed to human intervention and increased horticulture activities.

C.   Biligiri Ranganathaswamy Temple (BRT) Wildlife Sanctuary

Concerns raised about forest encroachment.

D.   Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary

An 18.43% reduction in greenery between 1973 and 2016 due to population growth and encroachment.

E.   Bannerghatta National Park

Dense forest cover decreased to 28% in 2016 from 50.40% in 1973.

IV.  Environmental Impact and Legal Implications

A.   NGT's Categorization

The NGT categorizes the issue as a matter of environmental law, asserting the authority to address the environmental challenges in the Cauvery valley.

B.   Urgency Emphasized

The NGT underscores the urgency of addressing the environmental challenges facing the Cauvery basin and safeguarding its ecosystems.

V.   Deforestation in Western Ghats: A Broader Perspective

A.   Western Ghats Deforestation

A study by the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B), reveals a 35% loss (33,579 sq km) of green cover in the Western Ghats since 1920.

B.   Impact on Monsoons

Deforestation in the Western Ghats affects 25% to 40% of Tamil Nadu's monsoon rainfall, disrupting crucial Kharif crops.

C.   Rising Temperatures

Deforestation leads to a 0.25-degree Celsius increase in surface temperature across Tamil Nadu, exacerbating the environmental impact.

VI.  Addressing the Challenges: A Holistic Approach

A.   Cauvery River Challenges

Multiple pressures on the Cauvery, including water demand, inter-state disputes, and prolonged dry stretches.

B.   Proposed Solutions

  • Afforestation alone is not a solution; a holistic approach is necessary.
  • Solutions include urban pollution control, proper waste management, and restoring riparian and floodplain ecosystems.

VII. Critique of Afforestation Initiatives

A.   Isha Foundation's Tree Planting

The Isha Foundation's large-scale tree planting initiative faces criticism from environmental experts. Concerns include the project's efficacy and the need to address root causes.

B.   The Importance of Holistic Approaches

Experts emphasize the need to focus on urban pollution control, sustainable agriculture, and responsible water management to address multifaceted challenges faced by India's rivers.

Way Forward: The Urgent Need for Holistic Environmental Conservation

  • The NGT's intervention and the alarming data on deforestation in the Cauvery basin and Western Ghats highlight the pressing need for immediate and comprehensive environmental conservation efforts.
  • The balance between development and preservation requires collaborative actions to ensure a sustainable future for the region.

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