Kalpavalli forest which was regenerated and rejuvenated from barren land was again degraded in the name of green energy. No doubt the windmills generate clean energy. But at what cost? The setting up of windmills narrate a different story.
Kalpavalli forest falls under Roddam mandal of Anantapur district which is mainly grassland ecosystem having tropical thorn forest. Kalpavalli is about 7,500 contiguous acres of village commons across Urudala Konda and Thumma Konda. The forest and the nearby regions are rich in date palm trees. Livelihood of communities are primarily dependant on marketing the date palm fruits.
The scrubs and grassland in Kalpavalli provide a whole host of ecosystem services and is one of the mainstays of the life support system of the region. Villagers collect the grass and make brooms to sell in the market. The tank system is another intricate part of this region, providing critical ecosystem services related to water. Kalpavalli is located upstream and is the life line for a series of cascading tanks beginning with Mustikovela. Tanks are used by the farmers for agriculture, irrigation, drinking and other purposes. In the valley of Kalpavalli there are thousands of date palm trees which are supported by the streams of the valley.
The streams in kalpavalli are a source of water not only to the village community but also to the wildlife including many endangered species of birds.
Eco restoration by communities
The regeneration of tanks was an important outcome of the restoration of ecology of the thorn forests of Kalpavalli.
Over the years, there has been degeneration of the forest. Timbaktu Collective, an NGO started working with the communities in restoring the forest to regenerate its ecology and life support system. The Collective began to promote the concept of ecorestoration through natural regeneration in a village called Mustikovela in 1992.
It took over a year to convince people to begin protecting about 125 acres of revenue waste lands in the hills surrounding the village. The impact was felt almost immediately. Over the years, 7 more villages joined in. Today about 7,500 contiguous acres of revenue wastelands are being protected and regenerated into a forest.
The participatory approach helped communities to organize themselves to take responsibility. Each village has a Forest Protection Committee (Vana Samarakshana Committee – VSC). All works are supervised and monitored by the VSCs through a system of watchers. These watchers patrol the area every day and in case of fires, intruders or tree cutting, they inform the VSCs, which mobilise immediate preventive action. Heavy fines are imposed on anybody caught felling trees. No trees are felled any more by the locals.
Each VSC has fire control volunteers. Every year, around 60-75 kms of firebreaks are made to stop fires from spreading. The members of the VSCs, the watchers and the cadres of the Collective spend a lot of time convincing shepherds who come with their sheep and goats from villages as far as 25 kms away, to avoid lighting fires.
These VSCs were federated into the Kalpavalli Tree Growers Cooperative in 2002 and later registered under the APMACS act in 2008.
Villagers through the organisation of Kalpavalli made the barren land green and in the process were able to get the benefit of many ecosystem services. While the hills were almost barren when the Collective initiated this activity, the root stock that had remained, began to send new shoots up, the grass seeds began to germinate, birds began to come back and new trees began to establish themselves. The soil has improved and many more varieties of grasses have come back. The habit of planting trees was cultivated. This improved the condition of water tanks and recharged the ground water. The regeneration of tanks was an important outcome of the restoration of the ecology of the thorn forests of Kalpavalli.
The Kalpavalli community managed wilderness and bioreserve provide an important source of non-timber forest produce, serve as a watershed and as an important grazing ground for more than seven villages in the Chennekothapalli and Roddam mandals. In addition, this large expanse of community protected land is a haven for wildlife.
The presence of large carnivores such as wolves and leopards in this area indicates that Kalpavalli not only serves as a corridor for local reserved forest but also plays a role in larger and more important landscape level biodiversity conservation.
For the communities, forests mean much more than merely providing ecosystem services. In Kalpavalli, Gopalswamigudi, a temple surrounded by forests, is considered as a sacred place by communities. The strong belief systems of the local communities towards religion and culture also helped in conserving the forests and their ecosystems.
In the mid 1990s in the drought prone region of Anantapur district, C K Ganguly (Bablu) and his team founded an organization and initiated work to deal with environmental issue and work in region where dry harsh weather makes life difficult for living. They bought around 40 acres of barren land and planned an experiment to convert this land into green land. They planted trees and after lots of effort the dry barren land was restored. They named it “Timbaktu”, meaning the last horizon on earth.
Timbaktu started working with communities, more than 30000 in number, in about 100 villages of Chennekothapalli, Roddam and Ramagiri mandals of Anantapur district. The focus has been on small marginal farmers, dalits and landless labour who were empowered to find their own solutions by their work. Several communities were formed to protect land and forest, to restore the ecology of land which was barren. They promoted organic farming and tree farming in villages and helped communities develop an integrated perspective.
In 2011, the wind power project rudely intruded into this tranquil land of Kalpavalli. A wind power company named Enercon started setting up wind mills and turned a green valley into the wind estate. Company interests overruled community based approach, affecting the environmental and socio-economic structure of the region.
Paying scant respect to the concerns and sentiments of the local community, this rich and diverse ecosystem was summarily handed over to construct windmills. Flattening the tops of the hills, the process of constructing the base to install these gigantic towers using a lot of valuable water for curing the base in a water scarce region, was undertaken.
The massive crisscross roads constructed by the company for onetime transportation of the windmill parts devastated the countryside. Local villagers claimed that during construction of roads and cutting of the hills, huge number of trees were felled to clear the area.
The heavy traffic on the hills created problems for villagers. The criss cross roads which have been constructed on hills are dividing slope of the hills and causing problems for sheep and cattle to graze on the forest ground. The height of boundary created by roads is around 7 m which is hard for sheep to climb and graze, as they are used to climbing straight to top of the hills for grazing. Sheep coming from nearby villages to grassland forest now have to go miles to graze because of roads on the hills and destroyed Kalpavalli grassland. Grasses are destroyed and dried up because of construction on the hills. Dust settled on the grass on the grasslands has caused problems for sheep and cattle to graze. The dust on agricultural fields and noise pollution caused tremendous inconvenience to the villagers and farmers.
It has been claimed that many cows of Gopalswamigudi died after eating plastics while grazing which was brought up in the forest area during construction of windmills. Several cows died after being hit by vehicles. The death of sacred cows hurt the sentiments of local communities for whom cows were very sacred. The streams near temple are dried up and polluted and the water is no longer suitable for cattle to drink.
The streams in Kalpavalli have started drying up after the erection of windmills. It is claimed by the people that the electric poles and earthing has generated heat inside the ground affecting the ground water. The streams in the valley are getting blocked owing to soil erosion. All this have directly affected date palm trees. The trees have dried up. The dried date palm trees are not producing fruits which is directly affecting villagers who are economically dependent on it. Almost the entire streams in the valley have dried resulting in the ecological degradation of the forest.
A disturbed valley
The process of windmill erection in Kalpavalli rang alarm bells for the destruction of the ecosystem on the one hand and the life support system of people on the other. The hills are now adorned with huge windmills which have been constructed for electricity generation. Clean windmills are now creating a concrete jungle in place of the regenerated tropical thorn forest which was a result of more than two decades of work by Timbaktu Collective.
Installation of windmills in ecological and forest land led to change in the ecology of the valley resulting in destruction and degradation of forest land, streams, grassland, livelihood and water system of forest and nearby villages all are affected. The livelihood of not only the local population, but also that of the migratory shepherds who are dependent on this regenerated ecosystem for some part of the year, is affected.
A silent valley is now disturbed with a dull swish of the swirling blades of the windmills. A sudden cracking sound from the windmill starting and stopping is a rude reminder that the prosperity we see around is at the cost of trampling upon the sweat and blood of the local population who do not even have access to the megawatts of electricity generated.
Farukh Riaz, Anita Sood, Saroj Bhayana and Alpna Sharma
Paryavaran Jagriti Abhiyan Committee Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development
14 A Vishnu Digamber Marg
New Delhi 110002