Development vs environmental degradation, a debate

EVS discussions usually start and end with the over-used terms reduce, reuse and recycle. The typical bowing down to renewable energy and a mandatory discussion on ozone layer depletion makes EVS lose its sheen much before its gravity is understood. Textbook images usually fail to reflect the seriousness of the issue. Unless the daily relevance & a doable intervention is demonstrated we lose our only chance to inspire the learners to take action. A healthy debate on developmental projects is the first thing to begin with. A contemporary & contextual visual documentation of the process can elicit a participative evaluation of the gain/loss. After discussing the chapter(s), teacher can use a part or the entire visual essay to extend the debate, discussion & deliberation. Teacher can start a group discussion. Students may conjure a skit. A same theme can be explored from environmental & economic perspective. This is for grade 8 and above. The whole purpose is to arouse eco-consciousness among the learners.

Kalyan Varma's photo essays are an introductory primer in that direction.

Teachers of India is proud to present first of his photo essays as a case study for middle school & senior school environmental sciences students. This is first of the series.

~ Editor

A Word about Kalyan Varma

Kalyan Varma is a wildlife photographer, filmmaker, naturalist and explorer specializing in environment, science and ecology in India. He freelances with many of the world's leading magazines, environmental NGOs and television channels like Nat Geo and BBC. He collaborates with wildlife scientists, conservationists, policy makers, activists and educators on conservation action, activism, documentation, books and film projects.

In his own words:

"I hope to combine an artist’s eye with a journalist’s curiosity and sense of storytelling in my visual style, resulting in a body of work I hope will inspire the viewer to discover more. Using narrative and visual construction I strive to lure the audience into the subject, prompting them to ask questions rather than accept a ‘standard version’ of changing landscapes."

Land Scrapes

In the race to make every inch of our land 'productive' we have scarred the landscape forever. We dig, mine, scrape, plant, bore and drill the land. This essays shows some of these landscapes from the air.

India has more than a billion people and we have very little land area to support such a large population. This, therefore, does not leave much room for free land or wildnerness areas and every part of the country is used for production or extraction. Most fertile lands are used for agriculture which is the lifeline of the country. Everything else is used for something or the other. Where there are rocks, we quarry granite; where there are minerals in the soil, it is dug and blasted; and where there is neither of these, we modify the remnant natural landscapes to make them more 'productive'. Here is a bird's eye view of our Deccan plateau. This is a broader horizon and a larger picture of the state of our land, which we seldom see from eye-level.
 

Devarayana Durga - a rock-scape of wonderful granite boulders and hills. The government treats these as waste land, but these are spectacular landscapes and home to some amazing wildlife

Cattle is an inseparable part of our agriculture and rural landscape

Tailings (residue) washed off from iron ore mines accumulate in reservoirs and adversely affect agriculture, people, and wildlife around these area

These water bodies are also used as dumping grounds for excavated earth debris

Thermal power plant. Even with the advent of hydro- and nuclear-energy, electricity generated by burning coal, a non-renewable fossil fuel, is still the biggest source of enerygy in India. Large areas of our forests are threatened by proposed coal mines

Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary is one of the few areas set aside in this landscape as a protected area. However during summers, fires like these can burn down large areas causing much damage to native habitats and wildlife

Children playing cricket - yet another integral part of our landscape and culture

A "tipper" on a dirt road. Hundreds of these mining trucks make a daily trip from the iron ore plants to the coastal ports from where the raw minerals are shipped off to other countries

Green-scape. The east-flowing rivers that originate from the Western Ghats have made parts of the Deccan plateau immensely fertile and suitable for wetland agriculture

A human-modified landscape. The courses and life-cycle of rivers have changed drastically due to many dams that obstruct their flow, canals that divert them, and uses they are put to by people living along side these

A canal is being dug, to divert water from the main rivers to drier parts of the State. These have changed the landuse patterns and transformed the face of agriculture from dry land cultivation to commercial crops and multiple harvests in a year

A dry lake bed. Villagers have dug up ponds to harvest water from rain or to collect the stemmed flow of the source water into smaller pools

A Village Panchayat meeting in progress. These get-togethers are the main governing bodies in rural India

Extensive granite quarrying due to the demand for growth and development through infrastructure building and construction - mostly in urban areas. Many of these are illegal quarries causing the disappearance of hillocks even in the outskirts of our cities

Once beautiful hills, reduced to flat, scarred and scraped landscapes like these after quarrying

Stone quarries are easy to setup and some of them come and go in few months, eating up hill after hill along the way

Pits for planting trees. Dry thorn-scrub habitats without too many trees are natural too. However, the government does not realise that open forests like these are critical wildlife habitats and not waste land and usually plant them up with non-native species with commercial value

A JCB digs the ground to plant trees

The Earth scraped out in neat rows for planting. This disturbs the top soil which contains critical seed banks and nutrients

An exotic species of Acacia are planted either as social forestry or compensatory afforestation measures

An alien green canopy scape. An Eucalyptus plantation looks like a dense forest from above, but in reality, does not support much wildlife, affects the soil, natural regeneration, and the ground water table, particularly in arid areas such as these

We must realise that one forest does not replace another. Once scraped or cleared, the native wildlife and vegetation on the land disappears forever and the exotic plants that are planted only make matters worse. We also have to a relook at our landuse patterns. Mining and quarrying are critical components of a developing country and one cannot stop these activities completely as all of us depend on them. However, what we can do, is make the right choices. Insist on ban of mining and quarrying in critical and sensitive wildlife areas. Insist on the companies taking care of the land during mining and extraction as well as post-mining by having a good, ecological restoration programs.

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