Political leadership offers no vision or clarity on matters related to environment, according to activists
There is hardly any mention of ‘climate change’ or what steps can be taken to tackle it in the manifestos of major political parties contesting the elections to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly. Voting for the polls has begun today (May 10, 2023).
This, even as rains in the state have become increasingly erratic. Crops are increasingly failing, with arecanut gardens, coconut plantations and other commercial crops becoming infested with several types of pests.
The state is home to a major section of the Western Ghats, one of the world’s 18 hotspots for conservation.
However, environmentalists across Karnataka are alarmed by the large number of trees being cut down to widen roads. Government officials have cleared forests of 100-year-old native trees from the sides of highways and planted exotic tree species, showing a clear lack of environmental awareness on the part of those in power.
The Sirsi Forestry University in Uttara Kannada has never been visited by any politician or political party leader. Similarly, hardly any have visited the Gandhi Krishi Vignana Kendra in Hebbal, which has a forestry division, to consult with the experts there.
The Institute of Wood Sciences and Technology is the name of the special division of the forest department located in Malleshwaram, Bangalore.
According to staff, only a small number of forest department officials visit this crucial institute. An official who spoke with this reporter on the condition of anonymity said he had no information regarding a minister or member of the Legislative Assembly visiting the campus.
According to green activists, politicians from all parties work together to build townships and apartments near lakes and other bodies of water.
But there has been no initiative taken or projected in their manifestos to increase the planting of endemic tree species, promote compensatory forest development, or even put an end to the state’s practice of reclaiming land from water bodies.
In 10 districts of the coastal Malnad and Bayaluseema regions, more than 65,000 hectares of water bodies and wetlands have been reclaimed, according to a report.
“It is not that the same party may rule in the long run. It is also not that climate change and reversing it take a long time. If the government or any political parties are committed, it is possible to bring about an overall improvement in the climate situation intensively and extensively in just three years,” Kalkuli Vittal Hegde, an environmentalist from the Sringeri assembly constituency in Chikkamagaluru district, told this reporter.
Hegde, a leader of the state’s arecanut farmers, has flagged the grave situation they are in. Over 100,000 arecanut growers spread across 12 Karnataka districts face problems due to two reasons.
Firs, the yellow leaf disease has continued to spread into all parts of the state’s areca-growing belt. On the other hand, another pest-caused disease known as ‘Blast’ has afflicted arecanut crops in the four districts of Dakshina Kannada, Chikkamagaluru, Udupi and Uttara Kannada.
Together, these two diseases have the potential to wipe off over 70 per cent of standing plantations in all 12 districts, particularly Chikkamagaluru.
Union Minister of State for Agriculture, Shobha Karandlaje, had announced Rs 10 crore for the revival of the study about diseases afflicting arecanut plantations.
“But the problem is humongous in nature. These diseases have the collective potential of wiping off the entire arecanut ecosystem forever, which costs lakhs of crores in a fiscal year. I am not complaining about the frugal funding but about the lack of vision of leaders in policymaking and the resolution of problems that the environment faces,” Hegde told this reporter.
Green activists who had fought against the Nethravati river diversion project said the scheme — which intended to lift water from the west-flowing Nethravati river and use it to fill up lakes and tanks in the eastern districts — has not been successful at all.
Not a single drop of water has reached the eastern districts even after an estimated expenditure of Rs 18,000 crore, they added.
The project has caused irreparable damage to the Western Ghats as over 24,000 trees were felled and the tributaries of the Kumaradhara and Nethravati were bifurcated and trifurcated.
The project also cut across a wildlife corridor running from Alur in Hassan district to the Brahmagiri hills of the Western Ghats bordering the Dakshina Kannada and Kodagu districts.
The activists told this reporter that the project was a ‘totally blind’ one and was yet supported by three chief ministers of Karnataka belonging to both, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress.
The abject poverty of vision and lack of concern for the environment by political parties needs to be analysed by voters when they go to vote on May 10, the activists said.
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