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Vanamahotsavas becoming a thing of the past

By M. Raghuram



Saplings kept ready by the Horticulture Department at Padil near Mangalore.

MANGALORE, JUNE 15. Mangalore has many environmental groups that get into action only when there are signs of an industry coming up. During "peaceful" times, they are a complacent lot and let things be as they are until an ecologically damaging power plant or an ill-informed government policy threatens to disturb the serene environs of Dakshina Kannada. In recent years, hardly have any environmental groups taken up tree planting programmes or awareness campaigns to highlight the importance of greenery.

As a result, the frequency with which Vanamahotsavas were held in the city in the early 1990s has come down. Whatever little greenery is left today is the result of a few people's initiative to make Mangalore a better place to live in.

The first two weeks of the rainy season used to be the most favourite part of the year to hold Vanamahotsavas. But according to officials attached to the Forest and Horticulture departments, the concept is slowly losing its appeal.

Though many flyers, letters, and appeals have gone from the departments to social service clubs, educational and religious institutions, and corporate and civic bodies in and around Mangalore to hold Vanamahotsavas, the response has been very poor, the officials point out. Now that the monsoon has set in, the departments are hoping that somebody will come forward to give Vanamahotsavas a new lease of life.

The Department of Applied Botany of Mangalore University has taken up a study to identify plants endemic to the Western Ghats so that they can be planted in Mangalore. The study has been undertaken in association with the McArthur Foundation of the U.S.

Already, some saplings belonging to select species have been planted at Konaje and the results are there for everybody to see. Also, the staff of the department under the guidance of K.M. Kaveriappa, B.V. Shetty, and K. Gopalkrishna Bhat have developed an arboretum at Pilikula Nisarga Dhama.

These experiments reveal that the local varieties of trees have a negligible mortality rate. Of the 55,000 varieties that are being grown at the arboretum, 225 local species have attained full growth in four years.

The botanists warn against planting exotic species during Vanamahotsavas as they tend to change the biodiversity of the region. Local varieties such as Honge, Honne, Kiralbogie, Hebbalasu, and hundreds of other species can transform the balding hills of Mangalore and Dakshina Kannada into lush forests, they point out.

Plant resources of Western Ghats and low lands of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts, a book on botany, identifies 528 species of plants and trees that are endemic to Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts. In their classification of the vegetation of the district, the researchers point out that some of the identified species are also suitable for greening the urban areas, which should strike a note with the local environmentalists. The receding forest cover is posing a threat to agriculture and is altering the biodiversity of the region. Sources in the Watershed Development Department note that Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts should have 66 per cent of their area under forests as against the Bayaluseeme region, where 33 per cent of the total geographic area should be forests.

One comforting turn to the story is that the Horticulture Department is ready with the saplings of endemic species in large numbers. However, there is a small price that has to be paid for them, which can be termed paltry considering the ecological importance of these trees.

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