Study on impact of unplanned development on Ecology of Central Western Ghats

An Indian Research team comprising of T V Ramachandra and S Bharath (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore); S Vinay and A. Shashishankar (Visvesvaraya Technological University, Belgaum, India) undertook a study to examine the possible impact of unplanned development on Ecology of  Central Western Ghats.

The study focussed on River Kali that originates in Uttara Kannada district in Karnataka and joins the Arabian Sea. The river has six major dams, 325 species of flora, and 190 species of fauna and the river is as old as the Western Ghats.

Findings of the Study

The important findings highlighted in the study are:

  • Unplanned developmental activities and land use patterns are reducing the evergreen forest cover and perennial streams in the central region of the Western Ghats in India.
  • Researchers by studying the remote sensing data found that between the years 1973 and 2016, the forest cover has reduced from 85% to 55%.
  • The land use pattern in the region has changed during 1980–2000 period due to developmental projects such as dams built on the river Kali, Kaiga nuclear plant and Dandeli paper mill which has led to large scale destruction of forests.
  • As a result, the evergreen forests have shrunk by from 62% to 38.5% during 1980–2000 period and large water reservoirs have been constructed at the expense of forest cover.
  • Even though River Kali has sufficient water supply and perennial streams in the Ghats and coastal areas, Regions that lie in plain lands with a higher degree of agriculture and cultivation have an intermittent and seasonal flow that has led to water scarcity for 4 to 9 months in a year.
  • The study citing Perennial streams were found in regions that have greater than 70% of forest cover links ecology and hydrology with land use.
  • Researchers propose that Forests with native species of vegetation play a pivotal role in enhancing the water retention capability of the catchment.
  • The findings of the study show that Villagers in the vicinity of native forests earn Rs 1.54 lakh per acre per year compared to Rs 32,000 in villages with stream catchments experiencing deforestation. This confirms the vital role of native forests in sustaining water and people’s livelihood.

The study concludes that management practices adopted by engineers were contributing to the erosion of water retention capability in the river catchment with severe water scarcity. The study recommends government agencies to establish better management and conservation strategies to maintain forest cover for food and water security.

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