Tonnes of bad news for the people of the nation in the past few months. We have been hearing stories of how the Nilgiris is likely to be turned into a marvel (as if it is not now) of development/progress. The story that has been repeated across various parts of the country is most likely to enact its new play now - right here in the Nilgiris.
First, the growing rumours of the proposed 156 km long railway line from Chamrajnagar to Mettupalayam which will cut a smooth shave across some of the nation's best forests, completing a historic venture for the railways but devastating the forests. It is not about the elephants as many would like to believe, but about an even muter organism, the forest. Forest that should be protected for the sake of ensuring that what has existed for centuries continues to do so even now. This region is where the so called eastern and western ghats meet and is so difficult to access for an average person, that the biodiversity has managed to be rich as compared to similar opened up regions.
Yes, it is true that times have changed and the pressure of development is leading to increased fatigue of the existing roads between Hasanur and Dimbham and also teh Salem Bangalore road.... but where is the point of sanity ending. Having already cut roads merrily in Nagarhole, Bandipur, Mudumalai, Hasanur, the upper plateau - we are still not happy with the harm caused on the ecosystem. Simply put, it would be a fallacy to construct this rail line at a time in history, when we have the convenience to reach from one place to another with too much bother.
Read this - http://www.countercurrents.org/shaji030607.htm
The second is the Masinagudi, Siriyur, Mettupalayam road that will light the lives of millions of people of the nation.... forget millions, not more than a few hundred people live in the region after the check post at Vazhaithottam. This road is the grandest ploy conceived by interest groups to ease the convenience of passengers wanting to reach Coimbatore faster. But consider the facts first - From Masinagudi, you reach Ooty that takes one hour, to Coonoor - another 45 minutes, to Mettupalayam - 50 minutes, to Coimbatore - 50 mintues - adding upto a total of around three and a half to four hours.
The other option takes one hour to reach Siriyur and through an incredibly winding road that is barely enough to accomodate one vehicle at a time - through elephant herds who have been resting in the shade perhaps, from Siriyur (the short hills becomes difficult for people to walk) to Thengurmarada would take an estimated one hour and lead beautiful hills to be devastated. From then on to Mettupalayam takes anytime between one and half to two hours and then another 50 minutes to Coimbatore - Add it and you would find that it takes about five hours on a good day were you dont hit and run black bucks or enjoy mock charges with these pitiful elephants.
What is the gain and why do you want to benefit at any cost. Why cant you be satisfied with the rather good availibility of resources that you have now compared to your ancestors. Why?
Even the British could not penetrate this patch of hills and forests and it indeed would be a good record for our engineers who would stand with their hands raised high when crews coming from both sides meet. Perhaps, even the Discovery people would make a film, a panama canal like scenario.
Great, but why.... I could go on and on about the richness of the region, the isolation which has led to civilization coming to a rest - atleast for the time being - It is possibly the last of the critical zones that has not been covered by well meaning TV crews but yes - a truly wonderful place, one that needs to be preserved and hidden from our view forever.......
The third point to take note of is the upcoming Nutrino observatory. (See http://www.hindu.com/2008/04/18/stories/2008041853240300.htm). 4 hectares of land would be occupied for the lab which is of national importance. It is an honour for this lab to come up in this region and would be a site to the best brains working together. Yes... and these brains would need a place to stay, eat and sleep. I do know a thing or two about colonies of this sort for they require huge colonies to stay in and offices to work from. I come from a family of coal miners and have seen the devastation unleashed in Bengal and Jharkhand. These colonies, many of which I stayed in close to santhals but rarely interacting with them casue social upheaval in the region. Imagine people with monthly incomes of more than 30,00 living int D type flats and bunglows next to poverty prone Irulas.... Their whole world would change and for the worse for it would take generations for them to obtain these jobs and at the same time would have lost the only thing which makes them so rich - their culture.
Then again, the Chamalapura Termal plant is another of the grand dreams planners have, in their zeal to bring in prosperity. But what would you prefer, the verdant hills of Mysore, famous as one of India's most clean cities or an obvious blackening of our environment and of our hearts. Nagarhole would remain nothing but a picnic spot with soot covered trees and some cheetal running around. the elphants would run away to Mudumalai and further south, causing more conflict with the demanding farmers of these regions and ultimately end being shot. Why.... yes development but even my relatively young eyes see through the maze of deceit that planners have put in.... Why can't you.....
What would you prefer ending up as... an ideal city lad whose idea of a holiday is France as India is one of those dirty, godforsaken country or an Indian whose heritage scoops deep gollops from our inherently nature based culture.... I don't know and I hope that well meaning people manage to drown these brilliant ideas in those alleys of decision making........