Contents

  1. Development that is mindful of nature

Development that is mindful of nature

Context:

By October 2021, 42 deaths were recorded, and the monsoon is not yet in recess. Such a high loss of life must lead to a serious review of the land-use pattern in Kerala. In the backdrop of these environmental disasters and consequent loss of life, there is a dire need for a serious review of the land-use pattern in Kerala.

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Land-use pattern in Kerala
  2. Concerns
  3. Review of two projects
  4. Way Forward

Land-use pattern in Kerala

  • Historically, most of the settlements were concentrated in the coastal plain, the adjoining lowlands and parts of the midlands.
  • At present, this scenario has altered with significant land-use change across topographic boundaries.
  • Population growth, agricultural expansion, economic growth, infrastructure development — particularly road construction — and intra-State migration have all led to the settlement of the highlands.
  • Kerala is experiencing high growth of residential buildings. The Census records that during the decade between 2001 and 2011, the population grew by 5% whereas the number of houses grew by 19.9%.
  • With a population density of 860 persons/sq. km against an all-India average of 368 persons/sq. km (Census 2011), Kerala experiences very high pressure on the land.

Concerns

  • The rapid pace of construction has serious implications for the geo-environment. Not only in terms of the locations for housing the settlements but also the demand for construction materials is altering the landscape in the state.
  • The basin characteristics of all rivers have been altered. It has resulted in gross disturbance of the character of the terrain evolved through weathering and formation of soil under natural vegetation cover. Consequently, the water-absorbing capacity of the river catchment is lost, and has contributed to increasing surface run-off and reduction in groundwater recharge.
  • Road construction in hilly areas has created conditions conducive to landslides. Construction on hill slopes prone to disintegration during heavy rain is a threat not only to those who choose to live there but also to those who are in the path of the debris that gets dislodged in a landslide. In parts of the State, the hills have been overbuilt, posing a danger to life.
  • Extremely complicated rules for registration of purchase and sale of property in Kerala are not matched by due diligence of building plans.
  • While the idea of a construction-free Coastal Regulation Zone, instituted by the Government of India and applicable to the entire country, is fairly well recognised in the State, the Government of Kerala has not been proactive in enforcing similar regulation. The hesitancy towards the implementation of the recommendations by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, commonly known as the Gadgil Committee, on protection of the Western Ghats is the best example of this.

Review of two projects

The most recent landslide in Kerala should lead the government to immediately review two major projects with the potential to lower ecological security.

The Silver Line project

  • The Silver Line project is a light railway connecting the two extremities of the State.
  • Its potential to usurp agricultural land and cause ecological disturbance is well known.
  • The claim that it is vital to the development of the State is debatable.
  • Kerala’s deficit is less with respect to transportation than what it is to power generation, urban infrastructure and a well-trained workforce.

Widening of the highway taking place in parts of the State

  • Entirely under the authority of the Government of India, this has involved mass felling of trees and the removal of habitation on both sides of the road.
  • The loss of vegetation and tree cover is sure to have an impact on local climate and water retention, impacting its availability.
  • It is not known whether the Government of India has consulted the people affected or just used the principle of eminent domain to have them evicted.
  • Eminent domain power is regarded as an inherent power of the State to take private property for a public purpose. This power depends on the superior domain of the State over all the property within its boundaries.

Way Forward

  • Kerala’s longitudinal topographic grain combined with its east-west-running rivers gives rise to an alternating ridge-valley landform. Given this feature, the construction of roads or any structure with a north-south alignment involves cutting across the valleys and lowlands, impacting natural drainage and overall landscape ecology. Therefore, development interventions should be cautious and ecologically sensitive to avoid unwarranted consequences and to be sustainable.
  • Evaluating ecosystem services lost in a developmental overdrive is a difficult exercise. Economic consequences of the actions towards nature are immediately not known. However, there is a need to acknowledge this.
  • Technical expertise is needed when re-engineering the earth. Earth scientists, independent public policy experts, elected representatives and citizens from the affected areas must be duly consulted before taking up such developmental projects.

-Source: The Hindu

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