Vested financial interests were operating "illegally" in ecologically sensitive areas like the Western Ghats, leading to the current climate and environmental crises said ecologist Madhav Gadgil said in an interview on Tuesday. There was too much "mindless development" that only served to profit the rich and would destroy some of the richest natural areas in India, he said.
The recent flooding and landslide activity seen after heavy rains in Kerala was not a new phenomenon and were in fact predictable due to environmental damage. In fact, the Himalayas had seen the same issue due to deforestation and erosion and they were even more sensitive to such changes, he pointed out.
"Climate change is having a perceptible impact on the entire west coast. Sea level is increasing, and the pattern of cyclone formation has changed. Cyclonic activity had reduced over the Bay of Bengal and increased over the Arabian Sea, including a spike in severe cyclones," Gadgil said, as quoted by the Hindustan Times. India was facing both man-made disasters which were exacerbated by the effects of global climate change he opined.
In 2011, Gadgil, who was chairman of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, had recommended that 129,037 sq. km of the Western Ghats – spanning Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa and Kerala – be declared an environmentally sensitive area because of its dense, rich forests and a large number of endemic flora and fauna. The recommendations were never implemented as the same "vested interests" had accomplished their goal of conducting "destructive" activities in the name of development, like cutting quarries and building roads through sensitive areas.
"In 2019, I travelled to Puthumala in Kerala after the landslides and saw several small landslide sites leading up to the big one. These were all along with a road construction project. Rock quarries are proliferating along these construction sites to provide construction material. This is leading to a gradual crumbling and weakening of the hills," Gadgil said.
He also strongly opposed the central government's plans to amend the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 as he felt it would only allow private players to exploit ecologically sensitive areas, which would eradicate natural biodiversity and cause wildlife to be forced out of their natural habitats.