A Stakeholder Consultation meeting on Sustainability of Ecosystems Services was held in Coimbatore on the 19th of September, 2017. This meeting was organised as a first step in preparing an urban Green Print for Coimbatore city. The Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), Keystone Foundation and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) have established a partnership to work together on this project. The objective of the planning study is to identify interventions that will help conserve and restore the natural infrastructure of Coimbatore. Different stakeholders that have been working towards the same goal were a part of the meeting. Besides them, Alpana Jain from TNC, Amir Bazaz from IIHS and Pratim Roy from Keystone Foundation were present.

In the recent past, the city has been under immense stress due to unplanned urban expansion, population growth that has resulted in congested housing and increased pollution caused by industrial and agricultural activities. All of these leave negative effects on water bodies, air, and proximate forests that comprise twenty percent of the district.

20170919_110120The meeting began with a brief introduction on TNC, Keystone and IIHS that are a part of this project. A panel, with Pratim Roy as a moderator, and four panellists; Mr. Kalidasan (OSAI), Mr.S. Baskar (IC for Governance), Mr. Mylswamy (Siruthuli) and Mr. Gopalakrishnan (Smart city planning), addressed the gathering on the topic ‘understanding Sustainability concerns in Coimbatore’. Mr. Kalidasan from OSAI, an environmental organisation in Coimbatore that works on water bodies, spoke about the transformation that has taken place in the city; he said ‘only to prevent unwanted flooding, surplus water from the Noyal river were channelled to the tanks. Back then, it was not a perennial river, it was only a seasonal river’. He pointed out; with reference to the 1927 Gazette report from the Madras Presidency, ‘Coimbatore had poor facilities for water and sanitation, only after the Siruvani dam was built, regular supply of drinking water was ensured’. He also mentioned the importance of conserving the catchment areas in the WG to prevent water scarcity in the future.

The water crisis has been a growing concern in the city for the past five years. This year was the first time in nine decades that the water supply for the city was at a halt, even though it (Siruvani) dries up during the summer season, it always rejuvenates. Groundwater quality has been deteriorating due to, both natural and anthropogenic impacts. Mr. S. Baskar representing Initiatives for Change (IC) Center for Governance (non-profit Educational Trust) speaking at the event, said ‘Fifty years back, the land was used for agriculture, tanks were used for drinking purposes, but due to unplanned developments the tanks are no longer available for economic development activity’. Lately, the city has also been witnessing a rise in temperature during summer, each year. Many suggest that this is caused due to reduced green cover. Numerous trees on the Mettupalayam Highway, Pollachi – Coimbatore road and Avinashi road have been cut down in the last decade. Given that all 3 organisations are working on climate change or associated with the subject through programmes that are interlinked, increasing green cover to impact climatic conditions in the city will be paid heed, through this project.

Coimbatore is one of the fastest growing metro cities surrounded by forest ranges. Coimbatore Forest Division is spread over 690 sq km in six ranges, of which 400 sq km is prone to man-animal conflict. The division has 58 villages and 315 route km of forest boundary. Two places where man-animal conflicts are being witnessed are the Thadamgam valley and Naickenpalayam area, both being elephants’ migratory path. This project will also focus on mitigating conflicts and improving urban forest management, as they play an important role in the ecology of human habitats in many ways.

Later, open discussions were held during which several suggestions were voiced out by citizens, local administration officials, Municipal officers and many others that were present. Pratim Roy speaking at the event said ‘In terms of institutions, there are so many role players in the city with the ability to influence the situation. Strength and entrepreneurship lie with the citizens. It is important to identify how to bring nature back into the system’.

The district is blessed with forest, hills, rivers and wildlife. It is surrounded by the Western Ghats (WG) mountain range on the West and the North. The Southern part of the city is formed by the Noyal River. The river emerges from Vellingiri Hills in the WG that passes through Coimbatore and Tirupur and finally drains into the Kaveri river in Noyyal (a village situated on the banks of Noyal river), Karur district. The Palghat gap provides the districts’ boundary on the eastern side.

IIHS, Keystone Foundation and TNC are together committed to restore the city’s health in an integrated and ecologically sensitive way. A second Consultation stakeholder’s workshop is being planned in the coming months.  Meanwhile, a draft which will incorporate the suggestions recommended during the meeting will be formulated. The second consultation workshop will involve more stakeholders that influence decision-making at the policy level.