NDC Call for Global Small Mountains in UN Meet:

Small Mountains Count

(The story of the Blue Mountains of South India)

A Legatee & Victim of Globalization


The Nilgiri Mountains are millions of years old. But its modern history, change and problems are 200 years old. Here is a Timeline of changes:

Nilgiris as a Global Legatee


- 400 years ago a Neapolitan Jesuit priest was the first to visit and write about it.

- 200 years ago the mountains were colonized by the British who introduced English vegetables, fruits, plants and trees and lifestyle.

- The Nilgiris became the First Hill Station- a new concept in global tourism

- Scots, English, Germans, Canadians, Danes, Swedes and so on created a settlement on the hills and started schools, some of which are still running

- Around 1850s the Europeans introduced coffee and tea plantations with Chinese labour which continue to this day.

- The worst famine of 1886-87 which hit the Madras Presidency killed millions but did not impact Nilgiris.

- Around 1870s the hills became the Summer Capital of the British Raj administering nearly half of India comprising the Madras Presidency.

- Around 1880s The Swiss and the Germans with English capital created a Mountain Railway which is still running.

- After independence in 1947, Canadians dammed the rivers to produce hydro electricity which are in operation even today.

- American and European anthropologists researched the hills to make it the most documented area of that size in Asia next to Jerusalem.

Nilgiris as a Global Victim

-The European colonizers left the Nilgiri mountains in 1950s, but the 400 odd species introduced by them stayed. Some of them became invasive.

-For meeting their fuel needs, the Europeans had introduced Eucalyptus and Acacia from Australia in 1850s. Hundred years later the Indian government planted the same species everywhere to feed the exotic Ryon industry which was believed to cloth the poor millions without the use of cotton. People rejected Ryon. But Eucalyptus and Acacia sucked the entire waters of the hills. The hills became perennially water deficient.

-BY 1960s, the potato introduced by the British became a victim of an European disease ‘Late Blight’.

-In 1970s the West Germans volunteered a cure – a pesticide named Dashnite. It did not cure the potato but killed it.

-Public sector industrialization was thought of as a way to develop the Ooty hill station. The French helped set up a Photo Film Factory with outdated technology which turned sick within two decades; turning the hill station also sick for ever.

-Ethnic conflict in neighboring Sri Lanka led to the resettlement of 200000 immigrants at one go upsetting the demography of the hills forever.

-The collapse of USSR set off an unprecedented tea boom on the hills enticing the indigenous farmers to abandon cultivation to become small tea growers. The boom burst once Russia stabilized leaving the small growers in the lurch forcing them to migrate out of the hills for livelihood.

-Tourism on the hills which was slow and seasonal became a flood after the IT boom created an explosion of oversees employment.

-The natural green cover of the Nilgiris mountains has declined to less than one fifth of the original size. The rest is covered by exotic invasive species introduced from other countries like Lantana. No cure seems to be in sight.

-Foreign funded NGOs coming from outside have not only pauperized the once proud natives described as ‘Lords of the Soil’ in the name of developing them; they have also set one tribe against another , there by destroying the communal harmony that existed for thousands of years and described by anthropologists as ‘ an exemption to entire humanity”.

-The Nilgiri Mountains today present picture of paradox – blessed and besieged by global developments.