‘Destroyed Western Ghats will turn South India into desert’

Mention mining to noted wildlife filmmaker Shekar Dattari and he says simply, "Mining strips everything away and turns pristine rainforests into wastelands."

The conservationist who has earned international recognition for his films 'Silent Valley-An Indian Rainforest' (based on the Western Ghats) and 'Mindless Mining-The Tragedy of Kudremukh' was recently in Goa. And though the current ban on mining in the state has brought the damage caused to the Western Ghats by thoughtless ore extraction into sharp focus, what Dattari has in mind is Kemmanagundi in Karnataka. "Mining activity stopped there 30 years ago, but nothing grows there even today."

It is Dattari's firm belief that mining poses one of the biggest threats to the Western Ghats that stretch across 1,600 km from the Gujarat-Maharashtra border to the southernmost tip of the subcontinent, Kanyakumari.

"As many as 65 rivers originate in the Western Ghats and 400 million people living in South India are dependent on these rivers," says the filmmaker whose wildlife exploits began at age 13 at the Snake Park in Chennai.

"The Krishna River, which is the lifeline of Chennai city where I live, originates in the Western Ghats in Maharashtra. The rice bowl of Tamil Nadu-Thanjavur-gets its water from Cauvery, which originates in the ghats of Karnataka. In Andhra Pradesh, vast stretches of lush paddy fields are watered by the Godavari," he elucidates. Destroying the forests that are the source of these rivers in the ghats could turn peninsular India into a desert. "All the development carried out will be meaningless if we do not have water for drinking, agriculture, industries and sanitation," he warns.

He stresses that ecologically-sensitive areas like the Western Ghats need to be contiguous to survive. But human activity, in the form of construction of roads, railways, dams, and clearing for plantations and human settlements have already done much damage to the contiguity of the forests that are home to tigers and the largest population of the Asian elephant.

"Wildlife conservation is not just a buzzword or about being kind to animals. Once destroyed, our natural heritage created through millions of years of evolution cannot be recreated," says the filmmaker, who, in 1998, was recognized by UK trade magazine Television Business International as one of the top 10 rising stars of wildlife filmmaking. He also has documentaries for 'National Geographic' and the 'Discovery Channel' to his credit.

Pointing out "we have only discovered a fraction of the species and life in the ghats", he says, "Every time scientists go there, they discover new things. New diseases are emerging in the world and these forests could well have the blueprints for the medicines we need to combat these illnesses."

"The Western Ghats are like a vast library with books containing immense knowledge being destroyed even before the books in it can be read," he says, again, simply. [TOI]