17th CSE Media Fellowships: Fragile Ecosystems of India

July - August, 2013

India’s sheer variety finds an echo in its diverse ecosystems from the barren cold deserts of Ladakh to the heat-swept dunes of the Thar, from the 7,000-odd kilometres of coastlines to the dense green cover of the Western Ghats. Most of these ecosystems are extremely fragile, buffeted as they are by direct human intervention as well as the vagaries wrought by a changing climate.

For instance, Ladakh is confronted by increasing number and intensity of floods due to glacial lake outbursts. Apart from tourism, the economy of the region is dependent on livestock and agriculture and both are under tremendous pressure. Similarly, the Sunderbans, an ecosystem fed by sediments carried by inland rivers, is fighting hard to keep its turf against rising sea water levels, cyclones, salinity etc.

As world leaders continue to rack their brains to slow down the greenhouse gas emissions, the list of climate-induced events continue to rise. On one hand, there are regions where vital resources such as water, food and forests are depleting at an unmatched pace; on the other, there are places that are being impacted by unprecedented amount of or irregular rainfall, weather pattern changes etc.

Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) invites applications from journalists to explore, capture and document the events, changes and stories from the regions which are already fragile and extremely vulnerable to these climate-induced events. Some suggestions on ecosystems are:

  • Sunderbans

  • Deserts (hot and cold)

  • Islands and/or coasts

  • The Himalaya

  • The Western Ghats

  •  Forests

Selected fellows will each receive a stipend of Rs 70,000 (subject to tax deductions at source) to support research, travel and writing between the given period. The stipend will be released in two instalments the first as a travel grant at the start of the fellowship programme and the second after its successful completion.

8 fellows have been shortlisted from 38 applicants. Following are their details.

Bijoyeta Das
Freelance journalist
Al Jazeera
Guwahati, Assam

Focus: North East

Story ideas:  The  population density has increased by more than 30%? So how are  the forests  accommodating the growing pressure of additional people?    

- How local people coping with the fluctuations in climate?  
- Are cropping and fruiting patterns fluctuating? Is it disturbing the food chain?  How is it  changing  the  face of biodiversity?
- Northeastern states are the home to migratory birds. Over 350 species of birds visit  the Kaziranga National Park annually. What are the trends now, why are the birds changing routes?  Does it impact the tourism and diversity of the region? Farmers in Assam have reported early fruiting of betel nut in the last few years.       

At the same time prolonged dry spell, short winters, lack of premonsoon shower and fluctuating temperatures have delayed horticultural productions, exceptionally summer fruits. This year a delay has been reported in the flowering of mangoes leading to       disease and pest attacks. What has been the economic impact?

What is the impact on sustainable livelihoods and food security?    

Rajshekhar Pant
Freelance Journalist
Hindustan Times/Dainik Jagaran
Bheemtaal, Uttarakhand

Focus: Western Himalayas
Story ideas: In the backdrop of the Uttarakhand floods, uncontrolled tourism is one area he would report on. With the lack of reliable data, what is the kind of tourism controls that exist or not exist in the pilgrimage areas. A series of reports looking at tourism, and its impacts along with the preparedness of the authorities to manage the scale of it.

- Impacts of the dams and hydropower projects on the region.
- Other places where Uttarakhand like tragedy might  repeat itself

Garwal Post: Kedarnath in the offing

Garwal Post: What are men to rocks & mountains.pdf

K Rajalakshmi
Senior sub editor/reporter
Mangalore, Karnataka

Focus: Western Ghats
Story ideas: Karnataka government has given consent for 158 mini hydel power projects in the forests of Western Ghats. Recently Karnataka High Court passed an order opposing any move to allow power projects in the Ghats. However even a few plants if allowed would be enough to cause the irreparable damage. One of the reports to be prepared based would focus on power projects and its impact on the forests of Western Ghats and the people living in the forests.

- Netravati Diversion project. Netravati is one of the west-flowing major rivers which originate in Western Ghats. The State Government has proposed to implement the same project, but in a different name, following the opposition to the project. Research and report on the impact of this project.

Residents voice against forest act and Western Ghats

Western Ghats

Biswendu Bhattacharya
Freelance Journalist
Look Back
Agartala, Tripura

Focus: Forests in Tripura
Story ideas: The impact of distribution of forest land rights under The Forest Rights Act in Tripura. The forest department has distributed land rights to about 1.76 lac hectare of land to 19000 odd forest dwelling families under FRA in past three years without specifying the activity on the land.

- To look at the impact of JICA and Indo-German Development Cooperation Projects along with Jhumia rehabilitation packages in terms of improvement of livelihood of the poor tribals of the state.
- Suggestive approach for correction of forest policy including forest based economic activities as well as to look at whether change in  forest ecology increases the health risk like vector borne diseases.

Tripura Times : Tripura flouts NFP

Agartala News Expresswww.agartalanewsexpress.com/index.php/more-news/111-land-deed-under-rfr-poses-threat-to-forest

Shillong TimesTripura explores possibilities for carbon trading

Shillong Times: Tripura forest dept cuts down rubber trees from sanctuary


Laxmi Prasad Pant
Resident Editor
Dainik Bhaskar
Jaipur, Rajasthan

Focus: Thar desert
Story ideas: Reports on rampant mining activities (legal and illegal) is removing the barrier between western and eastern deserts, resulting in the increasing desertification of Eastern Rajasthan.

-Impacts of the population pressure on the desert ecology.
-Study on the future impact due to oil and gas exploration: Western Rajasthan (The Thar) have become oil and gas exploration hub. A 9MMTPA refinery is being raised here with a huge investment of Rs. 38000 crore. Both of these have an adverse effect on the fragile desert ecology. A report on that.

Dainik Jagaran : Great Indian Bustard.pdf

Dainik Jagaran : Thar Desert himalayas News

Shiba Nanda Basu
Staff reporter
The Statesman
Kolkata, West Bengal

Focus: Eastern Himalayas
Story ideas: Studies confirm that many glaciers of the Eastern Himalaya are forming glacial lakes with increasing intensity, which in fact is corroborated with the intermediate effects of long-term climate change by majority of scientists.Field visits to identify villages that are prone to disaster due to imminent GLOF, investigate whether local residents have seen changes in the “potentially dangerous lakes” as often they are the firsm one to get signals of an imminent disaster, investigate government policy lacunae and where the funds are going,

- look at possibility of community initiative to adapt to such hazards
- find possible risk of landslide or change of river course due to dams and hydro projects that are being constructed in the ecologically fragile areas.

The Statesman : http://www.thestatesman.net/news/8102-sleepless-in-sikkim.html

The Statesman: Sikkim’s ground realities

Shailesh Malode
Science journalist and writer
All India Radio
Nashik, Maharashtra

Focus: Western Ghats
Story ideas:
It will be very interesting to know the impact of the various decisions taken by the Government and the approach of the people living in the region towards this .It will be a good opportunity to study the entire northern Western ghats and the efforts made by the conservationists and get some success stories amidst the doom feeling. This will encourage the people to understand the eco-sensitive zones better.

Western Ghats is also a fulcrum of various lesser  known natural heritage bestowed on the Human race. Kas Plateau is now world heritage site but is ecologically very sensitive.

- The Valley of Flower(rather a Plateau !) of Maharashtra is one of the many such lateritic plateaus (or Sadas in local language) which flower during monsoon rains  with rare plants and flower species. So it will be prudent to know what we may loose with the indiscriminate development appetite.

- We will be able to study the entire ecology of the western Ghats in Maharashta and unearth many unknown facts and bring them in public domain to have a healthy public discourses on various aspect of the western ghats

Athar Parvaiz Bhat
Freelance Journalist
Kashmir Live
Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir

Focus: Northern Himalays Kashmir and Ladakh
Story ideas: Impact of reducing pasture lands due to over grazing, uprooting of shrubs, floods etc, and the solution to safeguard these lands.

- Impact of rapid urbanisation on ground water levels in Leh, Ladakh
- Following up the climate disaster in Changthang this winter, what is happening to the industry now? People are known to move slowly to Leh in search for safer livelihood options, what will be the impacts on the industry.
- Impacts of unplanned infrastructure development in and around Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg, and Srinagar due to rise in tourism.
- Climate change impacts on wildlife in Kashmir

Jury suggestions:
- It would be great if the waste water cycle is also traced. Where does the waste water from the flush toilets go, and what will be the impacts on the complete shift from dry toilets to flush toilets on Leh.