Forest officials warn State of an environmental catastrophe in Nelliampathy

The Forest Department has warned the State government of an environmental catastrophe in Nelliampathy, leading to disasters such as landslips, from destruction of forests by people and ecological factors.

Giving the warning, a report, titled “Environmental catastrophes await Nelliampathy,” sent to the State government by the Additional Chief Conservator of Forest, Kozhikode, on June 25, 2011, said: “Last year, the Nelliampathy Hills suffered more than 10 landslips over a stretch of 1,000 metres. During 2007, there were more than three landslips over a stretch of 500 metres, causing heavy damage to roads, culverts, retaining walls and forests.”

The report said a detailed study carried out by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) in 2009 found that “landslips can be triggered by man-made activities such as change of land use, deforestation, slope excavation and loading or any combination of natural or man-made processes.”

Erosion

The GSI report said: “The effects of felling of trees are troubling especially when it comes to evergreen forests. The humus or topsoil of tropical rainforests is widely know for its thin and poor nutrients, and when topsoil is exposed because of deforestation, chances of massive erosion are more.”

The report of the Additional Chief Conservator of Forest said: “Therefore, no felling of trees can be permitted in the area since the land in the area is highly sensitive fragile land having a steep slope; land cannot be subjected to breaking up and clearing of undergrowth as per Section 6(2) of the Kerala Preservation of Trees and Regulation of Cultivation of Hill Areas Ordinance, 1983.”

Despite these reports, many estate owners in Nelliampathy had sought government sanction for felling trees. Some of them got it also. But they were stayed by the court at the intervention of environmentalist groups.

Many factors

The then Divisional Forest Officer, Nemmara, Dhanesh Kumar, in his report to the Chief Conservator of Forest, Eastern Circle, Olavakkode, last year said: “The Nelliampathy forests are on their way to degradation from various factors. Nelliampathy is an abode of rare and endangered flora and fauna. Some of the tributaries of the Pothundi, Meenkara, Chulliyar, Mangalam and Peechi originate from the Nelliampathy Hills. The storage of these reservoirs is badly affected by deforestation and indiscriminate felling in this area.”

“The hill tracts are rich in wildlife and are the abode of a large number of endangered flora and fauna endemic to this region. The land forms a corridor for movement of long-range species such as tiger, leopard, wild gaur and elephants. It is the core zone of the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve. Moreover, topographic features of this region have much influence on nearby human habitations. If the present occupants are allowed to continue on this land, it will definitely cause destruction of nearby forests and the ecosystem of this region,” the report said.

The Forest Department here has found that 27 estates has violated forest lease conditions and the Conservation of Forest Act, 1980, and thus have to be taken over, the report said. But the controversial Shernelly Estate sought permission to clear 28 hectares of rubber plantations. But the Forest Department obtained a stay from the court.

Plunder

The Nelliampathy forests were plundered in the 1980s and 1990s. This, along with the changing pattern of cropping on 4,000 hectares of estates, has led to environmental degradation and even climate change.

“Nelliampathy is also part of the catchment areas of the Pothundy, Meenkara, Chulliyar, Karapara, Bharathapuzha, Mangalam and Athirapilly rivers. The Karapara originates from Nelliampathy,” P.S. Panikkar of the Bharathapuzha Samrakshana Samithi said.

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