Ecological awareness campaign launched

Coimbatore: In view of the World Classical Tamil Conference, an awareness campaign to prevent pollution to atmosphere by the Eco Green Unit was launched by the City Police Commissioner, C. Sylendra Babu, recently.

He exhorted the public and the visitors to extensively use paper bags and shun the use of plastic bags.

Project Officer S. Gopu was present during the launch of the campaign.


Eco-disaster in Kodaikanal

eco-disaster Kodaikanal is a victim of eco-tourism. Apart from the infamous mercury poisoning incident, the hills are home to several problems from water shortage, pollution to deforestation, notes Divya Karnad

A thin figure bent over the broom greets us when we arrive at the gate of a quaint cottage near Kodaikanal. Ulrike, German-born and Indian by naturalisation, fell in love with the place when she came here over a decade ago. She even built herself a house, brick-by-brick. The property is framed by shola forest. 

“The tourists here are ruining everything,” she says. The Palni Hills recorded deficit rainfall this year, an additional worry. Already residents are facing water shortages. “It’s not just the noise and pollution, tourism is a real environmental disaster here,” says Ulrike.

Kodaikanal is no stranger to environmental problems; the ecosystem is still recovering from the effects of mercury poisoning. Starting in 1984, the mercury thermometer factory owned then by Ponds and subsequently bought over by Hindustan Lever, now Unilever, spewed dangerous levels of mercury into the air, water and soil. Until the expose following a study from the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), a campaign by Greenpeace and a study by the Indian People’s tribunal headed by Justice SN Bhargava in 2003, when the factory was forced to shut down, more than 9.6 times the accepted levels of mercury was dumped into the environment.

The DAE study also confirmed the spread of mercury into pristine forests nearby and to lakes like Berijam and others, over 20 km away. The Supreme Court had ordered the company to remedy the situation by the construction of a hospital meant to specialise in treating the mercury afflicted. This is yet to materialise. “None of the doctors in town accept mercury poisoning as a cause for ailments here,” says Andy, a resident of Vattakanal.

Mercury-contaminated glass waste being packed at HLL's scrapyard for shipment to the United States, on the orders of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board in March 2003.

The famous ‘Kodai Lake’ contains dangerously high levels of mercury both in the water and the underlying silt. However, despite the SC directive, there has been no effort to combat the mercury poisoning. There are no signboards that display the dangers of the lake waters. In fact, there is no mention of mercury anywhere, except in hushed tones, within the homes of the chronically ill.  

Then, there is the question of deforestation. The land mafia converts any remaining forests into hotels and other tourism infrastructure. With no forested watersheds left, streams are drying up or being sucked into the borewells of hoteliers. With the centre of the town deemed too crowded, tourists are heading to the outskirts. “There is a new kind of tourism now, I think its called drug-induced-tourism,” says a resident of the village of Vattakanal.

“Rave parties have become the rage,” says Ulrike. “Tourists say Kodaikanal is better than Goa for the ‘stuff’”.  The area has experienced the worst of the new wave of Israeli tourists, with home stays dotting the landscape, garbage piling up and municipal facilities at an abysmal level. “Tourist vehicles have resulted in the road caving in. The authorities patched it up just a few months ago, and already the road is sinking. It will definitely wash away with the next rain,” say residents. Kodaikanal has a lot to offer the hallucinogenic thrill seeker, besides ganja. Ganja is sourced from far away in the plains, while mushrooms are locally grown, so drugs are an in-your-face part of life in this hill station. Touts openly solicit customers at the bus stand.  A study from the University of Exeter found that mosses, lichens and fungi are bio-indicators that accumulate heavy metals in their tissues.

Magic mushrooms, therefore, not only stimulate the mind but might also leave lasting neurotic effects if mercury-laced. The mushrooms and ‘grass’ are but drops in the ocean of heavy duty narcotics that flood Kodai. The hoteliers have been quick to realise that the gradual relocation of their business to the outskirts is necessary if they want continuing profits. Large tracts of forest land have been flattened in anticipation of tourism infrastructure, resulting in soil erosion and silting of nearby water sources. Residents have also had to increase the agricultural output to feed the burgeoning population. Hills have been cut and terraced into submission. Roads snake through, bringing with them loggers, poachers, more tourists and hoteliers. Residents have begun to notice an increase in temperatures and the lack of rain.

With a bleak future, many of those who found solace in the pristine Palnis have decided that the time has come to move away. But some people like Ulrike or Bob and Tanya of the Vattakanal Conservation Trust believe that there is still hope. “The power of nature to overcome the effects of such poisoning is great if we only give her a chance and enough time,” they say. Although the forest department is hesitant, the Vattakanal Conservation Trust has started a shola-grassland restoration programme in a 30-hectare plot with their help. Strangely the Palni hills do not have any earmarked protected areas for forests and wildlife despite being part of the Western Ghats Global Biodiversity Hotspot.

Hazardous wants and waste
As India readily agrees to become the world’s hazardous waste-dump through the watering down of the Hazardous Waste Rules (2008), more people are being threatened by a wider variety of dangerous substances.

What you can do as an eco-tourist
Until the authorities step-in to do their duties, it is important for tourists to protect themselves.
Research the location in which you plan to holiday. Find out the history of environmental disturbance in that area.
Research your hotel to find out if they practise fair trade and whether they are really eco-friendly.
Mercury can affect foetal development; therefore avoid mercury laden environments if you are pregnant or planning to have children in future.

From Deccan Herald

A lesson in marine biodiversity

Students from 22 Chennai schools made aware of importance of conservation

CHENNAI: Students from 22 city schools took part in the Marine Biodiversity Conservation Festival organised here to make them aware of, at an early age, the importance of conservation of marine resources.

GREEN TIPS:Students of PSBB explaining the importance of water as part of the bio-diversity festival in Chennai on Sunday.

Organised by the Tree Foundation, the U.S. Consulate in Chennai, and the National Biodiversity Authority of India, the meet featured marine conservationists from the U.S., Australia, Seychelles and Trinidad. They shared their experiences with the aid of documentaries and speeches to inspire the students.

Supraja Dharini, Tree Foundation chairperson, said: “Since 2010 is being celebrated as the International Year of Biodiversity, we decided to hold this festival to enhance awareness among the public the threats to marine life and the importance of conserving biodiversity. The festival will explain the vital link between human life and the health of our oceans.”

As part of the festival, Tree Foundation screened a seven minute documentary that explained how an injured sea turtle was treated and sent back into the sea.

In his message, U.S. Consul General, Andrew T. Simkin, said that the U.S. government supported a range of efforts to conserve marine biodiversity and participated in number of multilateral and bilateral agreements to protect whales and other cetaceans, polar bears and seabirds.

“Ocean and coastal marine ecosystems play an important role in the health and welfare of human communities. There is, however, growing alarm about the impact of human activity on communities of life in the sea. Major threats to marine and coastal ecosystems include coastal development, global climate change, invasive species, overfishing and pollution. A large number of marine species may be under threat of extinction due to the convergence of these threats,” he said.


With discipline environmental problems can be tackled

Call to increase forest cover from 20 per cent to 33 per cent; learn a great deal from tribals

People must come on a common platform to deal with issues like climate change

Preserve Nilgiri mountain ecosystem for future generation

Udhagamandalam: If people are disciplined problems relating to the environment can be tackled, observed the Field Director, Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Rajiv K. Srivastava at Coonoor on Saturday.

Delivering the valedictory address at the week-long International Climate Champions Field Camp organised by the British Council and the Nilgiris Documentation Centre (NDC), Mr. Srivastava said that people must come on a common platform to deal with issues like climate change.

Expressing confidence that climate change can be dealt with, he said that the forest cover which was about 20 per cent should be increased to 33 per cent.

Pointing out that human beings were the cruellest form of life on earth, Mr. Srivastava said that egos should be put on the back burner and steps taken to protect the mute population.

Stating that the shola-grassland eco-system of the Nilgiris is unique, he said destruction of exotic species should not be encouraged.

He added that a great deal can be learnt from the tribals.

The Director (South), British Council, Chris Gibson said that many of the challenges facing contemporary society today are global in dimension. Among them are terrorism, extremism and climate change.

Work together

Stating that the world is inter-connected and the repercussions or impacts are felt globally, he opined that solutions require the global community to work together in a collaborative manner.

The Nilgiri mountain ecosystem is one of the most beautiful ecosystems of the world and “we need to preserve and protect it not just for future generations to enjoy but also in the context of the relentless climate change battle, for mountain ecosystems are important carbon sinks,” he added.

The Director, NDC, Dharmalingam Venugopal welcomed the gathering.

Observations recorded

By forming themselves into different groups, the climate champions recorded their observations and offered suggestions to “make the world a better place to live in”.

The Deputy Director, British Council, Kartar Singh proposed a vote of thanks.


Chennai: Eco-restoration of the Cooum is on

CHENNAI: Eco-restoration of the Cooum river here formally started on Tuesday with the Public Works Department handing over 10,000 sq m of land along its banks to the Chennai Corporation.

Participating in a function to mark the launch, Deputy Chief Minister M.K. Stalin said the first phase, including the beautification of the river, would be taken up at an estimated cost of Rs.1,200 crore.

To start with, the Corporation would beautify the banks from the St. Andrew’s Bridge to the Harris Road Bridge. The Public Works Department had removed some encroachments along the banks, particularly near Langs Garden Road in Egmore.

On completion of the work the river channel will be 30 m wide and have boat jetties. The beautified banks would have a green area at the higher flood plain, a walkway, gabion bunding, shaded areas, another green area and a plaza beside the road.

New drainage systems would be constructed at a cost of Rs.200 crore in areas through which the river flows under different local bodies. Upgradation of the existing drainage network at a cost of Rs.117 crore and restoration of the river bank at a cost of Rs.200 crore would be undertaken. Some work being carried out by the Corporation, the PWD and Chennai Metrowater under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission scheme would form part of the first phase.

Technical assistance of private consultants who carried out restoration of the eponymous river that passes through Singapore would be availed of at the appropriate time.

The 71 waterbodies in the river’s catchment areas would be restored. Restoration of other waterways in the city was also under consideration, Mr. Stalin said.