Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Aug 02, 2002
Industry & Economy
Idukki forests reel under encroachment
KOCHI, Aug 1
INDISCRIMINATE forest encroachment has reduced the tropical forest area and brought down the quantum of rainfall, apart from raising the temperature in Idukki district.
The forest area in the district, considered to be among the highest in the State, has been reduced to just 43,000 hectares in 2000 from 2.8 lakh hectares between 1950 and 1962, according to a study conducted by the Kerala State Swadeshi Science Movement (SSM).
The forest area fell to 1.3 lakh hectares in 1980 and then to 92,000 hectares in 1990.
Thus, the total forest area in the district has been reduced to around nine per cent now, Mr Karimkunnam Ramachandran Nair, the State Organising Secretary of SSM, told Business Line.
The forest area in the State is spread over Idukki, Wayanad, Pathanamthitta, Kollam, Palakkad and Kannur districts.
With the encroachments in recent years, the area must have been further reduced, Mr Nair said.
The total population of the district in 1931 was only 39,000, which went up to 11.5 lakh in 2001.
"The increase in population was mainly due to large-scale migration precipitated by the land-grabbing economy.''
He added that those who had encroached, deforested and occupied the forest land were given title deeds. "No Government has shown the political will to evict these encroachers.''
Deforestation has resulted in a substantial drop in the rainfall in the district, which has a major hydel project apart from cash crops such as tea, cardamom, coffee, clove and pepper.
The district, which used to receive an average rainfall of 6,050 mm per annum in 1950, got only 5,500 mm in 1970, which further dropped to 4,500 mm in 1990 and 3,500 mm in 2000, he said.
In 1950, there were 147 rain gauges set up by the plantation companies. This was increased to 178 in 1970 when the electricity board and other departments put up 31 more gauges. Thereafter the number fell to 87 by 2000, he added.
The decline in rainfall has had a serious impact on the underground water table. The district has 2,217 tube wells, of which 791 were set up by the Government. But water was available only in 412 of these, Mr Nair said.
According to engineering theory, the potential water availability in these wells is expected to last for another seven years.
Another serious impact of deforestation was the increase in temperature in the hill stations of the district.
The minimum temperature in Munnar was (-) 3 degrees centigrade in 1950s and early 60s, which has gone up in recent times. The average maximum temperature used to be 18 degrees during the day, but this has now increased to 26 degrees.
This rise has resulted in the reduction of moisture, wet conditions and cold atmosphere, Mr Nair said.
As the deforestation by encroachers is on the increase, there is the possibility of further increase in temperature in the coming years apart from a consistent decline in the rainfall, he added.
"If you travel through the forests, you can witness an encroachment every hour.''
The change in climatic conditions has also increased the number of diseases among the crops, he said. The 900-page report covering all the major aspects would be submitted to the authorities, Mr Nair added.
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