Conservation & Development Dilemmas

By Sydney Colussi – B. Political, Economic, and Social Sciences
The Cauvery River extends approximately 400 kilometres through Karnataka to Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. It supports the livelihoods of millions of people. Today, we visited the sacred start of the river in the Kodagu region of Karnataka. Following the removal of shoes and changing into appropriate dress – cloth skirts for those of us with ankles showing – we slowly made our way towards the river’s edge. Walking up the stairs, the hazy, mountainous backdrop of the Western Ghats served as a reminder of the sanctified nature of the surrounding environment.
This region is fundamentally important for religious, cultural, and environmental reasons. At the river-side temple, we gained some insight into the area’s spiritual character. Standing in line, I noticed that the river looked more like a pool, with steps leading down to the water’s edge. Individuals and families dressed in brightly coloured, formal clothing were either dipping their hands and feet into the water or fully immersing themselves. While our group opted for partial rather than full immersion (i.e. hands and feet), the experience still strongly re-affirmed the symbolic importance of the river.
Next to the sacred pool – which, I later discovered, is filled by a natural underground spring – we waited with other visitors to receive blessed holy water. Afterwards, we made our way towards additional religious altars within the sacred site. As first-time visitors, it was fascinating to witness the spiritual and cultural meaning assigned to both the river-pool and its surrounding environment. While the river is responsible for physically sustaining millions of lives, this particular area also serves an important symbolic purpose – it embodies spiritual and emotional ties to the land.
We encountered a similar appreciation and respect for the environment at Talacauvery wildlife sanctuary. Walking into the park, we passed a sign advertising the conservational benefits of the sanctuary’s trees – production of oxygen, soil and water conservation, etc. – and concluding with ‘so grow more trees’. As we navigated the grassy terrain, it was clear that a considerable amount of time and energy had been dedicated to preserving the unspoiled landscape. The lush trees, well-maintained ponds, and clear blue skies mirrored local conservation efforts. This sanctuary reflects the local forestry office’s key priorities, including the conservation of land and wildlife, mitigation of human-animal conflict, and maintaining biodiversity.
In India, the status of environmental protection is highest in national parks. As a result, wildlife reserves such as Talacauvery play an important role in national conservation efforts including preserving wildlife on the brink of extinction, such as rhinos and tigers. The park’s capacity to protect India’s endangered flora and fauna is necessary to sustain the Western Ghats’ high eco-fragility. These conservation efforts, while important in preserving the Ghats’ reputation as a ‘hotspot of biodiversity’, inevitably provoke tension between human society and animal habitat.
The day concluded with a student seminar on coffee, agroforestry and sustainability. Group discussion focused on both the compatibilities and complications embedded in the relationship between economic development and sustainable conservation efforts. In other words, how do you decide which land is dedicated to elephants or agriculture? There are so many stake-holders in negotiations over land use and interests vary between the state, NGOs, corporations, farmers, consumers, local and tribal communities with spiritual sentiments attached to the land, as well as the wildlife.
The Cauvery River and Talacauvery Sanctuary are both good examples of the conservation dilemmas facing India at this stage of its development.