One week ago, a final visit was made by Nidhi Pundhir – Director CSR, Head HCL Foundation and two consultants from Grant Thorton, delegated by HCL, visited Keystone to understand the project better. In January they will present our project to the final jury after which one organisation will receive the grant among the three, for each category.
Conservation up to the present time has been a central component of Keystone Foundations’ work in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. In May 2017, the organisation had applied for the HCL Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) grant. This yearly grant has three major categories – Environment, Education and Health. Although Keystone works on all three subjects, we chose to apply for the ‘Environment’ category, as it is one of the cornerstones of our decade-long work in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. HCL had received 850 applications, out of which ten organisations were selected under each category, among which Keystone was one of the shortlisted organisations. In the month of August 2017, consultants delegated by HCL visited Keystone on a 2-day visit to get a better understanding of the organisation and the genre of work we do. They visited the proposed field areas that had been mentioned in the submitted project. Subsequent to their visit, our project was being elucidated to the jury, after which we were elected as one of the three finalists in the ‘Environment’ category.
The main objective of the proposed project is to ensure water equity and water security for both, humans & wildlife. Two major factors were crucial for us to address this growing concern; they are – the water crisis in the Nilgiris despite having an ample number of wetlands and springs. The latter is the recent increase in the conflicts between human and wildlife due to competition for water. The project will have its focus on two landscapes, within which two specific areas in each landscape is where our work will be implemented. Several approaches will be adopted in order to sort the fundamental problem; that is water for humans & wildlife.
Under the first landscape, the two areas that have been chosen are – Kotagiri and Kookalthorai valley. Kotagiri will have three focus areas Elada, Kotagiri town & Catherine waterfalls. In the past decade, the town has been under immense stress due to rapid urbanisation, persistent land use change and increased economic activity. All of these are affecting the water resources considering the fact that it continues to function with the ancient infrastructure that has become inefficient in managing the waste that is being produced due to the above activities. In terms of interventions, the project will identify wetlands in the area and determine the scope of conservation efforts which will involve communities and stakeholders. Two key wetlands will be identified in Kotagiri that will be converted into wetland parks. These parks will serve as a model to raise awareness on the significance of wetlands and will also implement eco-restoration efforts that will protect these wetlands from depletion and exploitation. Waste management will also be an important aspect which the project will focus on.
The Kookalthorai valley is the second sub-area under the first landscape. The prime reason this area was chosen is that of the chemical-intensive agricultural practices carried on in this region that has left adverse effects on the quality of water thereby contaminating the downstream flow besides increasing competition of water resources between humans and wildlife. Promoting organic farming and by providing a market through our spin-off (Last Forest Pvt.ltd), rejuvenating the streams through eradicating invasive and encroachments, training locals for advocacy and monitoring wildlife will be some of the interventions in this area.
The second landscape will represent the mid-slopes of Nilgiris. Under this landscape, the two sub-areas will be the Aracode region and the tribal villages situated below this region. The recognised issues in these areas are lack of perennial water sources which has increased competition among communities, wildlife, and estates that have resulted in conflicts. The lower region is the most affected as the water that flows downstream is highly contaminated when it reaches the Moyar River on which the tribal hamlets in the Moyar valley depend upon. Identifying key water sources and adopting systems for water retention, training tribals to regularly monitor the water resources & wildlife movement, and partnering with NGO’s and forest department to declare it a chemical free zone through awareness programmes are some of the interventions that will be applied here.