Environment Day: Why turn our forests into dumping pits?
Q. In Kerala, the protest against destruction of environment started at Silent Valley. Can we see a balanced viewpoint on environment and development?
A: Yes. Silent Valley represents the battle for conserving nature against wanton destruction in the name of development. It was a trendsetter in the country and brought in a lot of impetus to the conservation movements across the country. Here, we are talking about issues related to sustainable development. Practicing sustainable development is much easier than done. Developing a landscape-level approach is more relevant in this context than pursing sector driven developmental agenda. That is the future.
Q. Can you mention the programmes implemented with the objective of creating awareness with public participation?
A. The very creation of Silent Valley National Park has been participatory. The area was saved from destruction following a public agitation. Thereafter, Silent Valley has become a symbol and platform for nature conservation. Primarily, this was effected by education programmes on nature. Nature camps, public campaigns etc. are important activities of the Park. Public involvement has increased when we implemented participatory forest management. We have formed eco development committee comprising tribals and those living in the surrounding areas.
Q. We have no evidence regarding the encroachment in Silent Valley till mid-19th century. What was the impact of direct human intervention on this national park?
A: The forests in Silent Valley are several centuries’ old. Only indigenous tribals are known to have inhabited these areas till a couple of centuries ago. But with the advent of colonial masters, the area started witnessing human footprints for commercial activities. They had attempted to raise cinchona, coffee and tea estates in certain areas; but had to abandon it due to a horde of inclement reasons. Then started the move for the construction of dam. All these had negative impacts on the biodiversity of Silent Valley. As tropical rain forests, these are invaluable and extremely sensitive disturbances. It takes time to recover from such instabilities.
Q. What are the things which cause negative impact on environment?
A: Waste disposal is the main problem which affects environment badly. If you take a deeper look, you can find out the real situation. Roads and rivers are polluted due to dumping of garbage. We have a tendency to dump waste into forests every time. Improper waste management causes public health and environmental hazards. Thick forests are seen on both sides of Attappady ghat road. Of late, poultry waste in large quantity is being dumped here. Though the Health department has warned of severe health hazards, the authorities haven’t implemented a proper waste management mechanism. Majority of the people believe that individual effort cannot make a positive impact. As long as they stick to this line of thought environment destruction cannot be prevented.
Q. Is the Athirappilly project an environment-friendly one?
A. Since I have not seen this specific project proposal, I cannot comment on it. However, generally, it is seen across the globe that unless handled carefully, developmental projects do have impacts on forests and biodiversity.
Q. Do you think engaging youth in environmental protection can make a direct impact in future?
A. I believe that young people are aware on the need to protect environment. But the problem is how they make use of their knowledge for protecting and improving the environment. Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try. I am sure that we can make positive changes involving youths.
(Silpa V. Kumar, an IFS officer, completed her 2-year training at Indira Gandhi National Academy in Dehradun. Post training, she was appointed as Deputy Conservator of Forests and Wildlife Warden at Silent Valley)