Queen of Hills – A victim to anthropogenic pollution.

The negative impact caused by human activities on the environment is very real. In actuality, environmental degradation is caused by several factors, but most importantly, human activities stand out amongst other factors that leave behind the most detrimental influence on the environment. Activities such as, exploitation of natural resources, increased waste production, land mismanagement, deforestation, mining and industrial development are concerns that pose a major threat to the natural environment. It’s unjust to arrive at the conclusion that humans don’t care about the environment, but it would be apt to state that, our ignorance to such happenings has led to the imbalance of the natural system.

A few days ago, a workshop organised by the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) and World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) India was held at Keystone. The theme for the event was ‘River Pollution in the Nilgiris Plateau’. The Key focus of the workshop was to share results of water quality analysis that was carried out by ATREE and WWF respectively. The study mainly focused on the river bodies that are affected by the Sterling Biotech Company (Udagaimandalam), and their un-scrutinized discharge system that contaminates the Pykara river, Sandynallah river and Kamarajar dam. The Pykara River is considered sacred by the Todas community that dwells in the forest close to the water body. It was an essential source of water for them and their beloved buffaloes, the neighbouring hamlets, including the wildlife that prevails in the encompassing forest. However, the company continues to maintain that it is not responsible for any water pollution and claims how their presence has benefited over 500 families by providing opportunities for their subsistence.It is undoubtedly an issue that requires scrutiny, but in addition, there are numerous other problems that are causing serious damage to the Nilgiris.

The hill cities (Ooty, Kotagiri, Coonoor) are under profound stress due to increased anthropogenic activities in the past decade that is wreaking havoc on the natural resources like air & water, land and the environment that support diverse life-forms (flora & fauna) including indigenous communities that depend and survive on them.  This is not only an alarming concern for the environmentalist, NGOs, Municipal administration and Forest officials, but as citizens of the Nilgiris, it is important for us to realise that we need to play a bigger role in preventing similar problems from arising. As a destination that witnesses more than million tourists annually, it is unimaginable to think of the carbon footprint that is released. Even though the effect is not immediately visible, it is impossible to eliminate the damage it has caused to the ecology of the hills.

Given the dismal reality, it can be easy for us to throw our hands up and assume that we cannot do anything to improve the situation. As residents, it is possible to spearhead a change through a collective approach. While the most dramatic changes will need interventions on a government scale. But we can make a conscious change and begin by responsibly managing our household waste, reducing food waste that usually ends up in landfills, and moreover the squandering of resources that was used to produce the food, building your own compost pit, choosing to reuse, building a community in your locality that advocates for cleaning the surroundings and treasuring the trees will reduce the damage substantially.

It is a common perspective that since Nilgiris is a hill station with numerous wetlands and springs, the scarcity of water is not prevalent. The wetlands in the Nilgiris are under immense stress and are gradually dying. Over the years Keystone has been carrying out extensive studies on wetlands in the Nilgiris. Efforts to conserve wetlands through facilitating community education projects, and conducting wetland inventory, monitoring and restoration have been a part of our efforts to magnify the role of wetlands in the ecosystem. They provide habitat for animals and plants and contain a wide diversity of life, supporting plants and animals that are found nowhere else, apart from absorbing pollutants, improving water quality, groundwater recharge and stream flow maintenance. Conserving wetlands is necessary in order to prevent scarcity of water, considering the demands due to increased urbanisation and floating population that visit resorts and hotels that are growing in numbers more than trees. Over time, through our work, we were able to identify the reasons for contamination and depletion of wetlands and springs. Varying from encroachment, intermixing of pesticides with the spring water from agricultural land, continued extraction of water and landfills are the major reasons; needless to say, all of it is human activities that have affected these resources.

We must understand that once the balance of nature is disturbed, it would be beyond our capacity to prevent the disastrous chain reaction that will be triggered. The region has always been witnessing human interference through development projects like hydro-electricity projects, horticulture etc. Deforestation in the Nilgiris is mainly attributed to conversion of forest into plantations and agriculture. Even though there hasn’t been a substantial reduction of forest cover in the past decade in the Nilgiris, the need to adopt more sustainable practices that reduce anthropogenic impacts to keep the forest intact will prove beneficial on a long run.

Wherever humans live, they have operated to alter the aspect of the earth. However, as inhabitants of The Nilgiris, we need to obliterate carless, wasteful practices and ensure that human-induced landscape change is rational and constructive so as to better serve humans and other species to survive and exist in harmony.

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Nilgiris Water Portal NTFP South East Asia
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Keystone Foundation
Keystone Centre, PB 35
Groves Hill Road, Kotagiri 643 217
The Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, India

Telefaxes: +91 (04266) 272277, 272977
Email: kf[at]keystone-foundation[dot]org

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