Anitha.S- Protecting Santhivanam

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Re-post from countercurrents.org with authors permission

Dear Sisters,

As the golden light of dusk falls and the roosting cries of birds eager to settle in the branches of trees all around reaches a crescendo, ,the harsh and piercing sound of the piling engines and cutters also slows down…..but I know it will start all over again tomorrow morning waking the birds, the mongooses, the tiny butterflies and bees with a shocking roar…..

Since a week, this has been the state of affairs in Santhivanam (located in the Kottuvally Panchayat in North Paravur in Ernakulam district in Kerala) that has lost all the peace for which it was named so. Inspite of fervent pleas to the High Court, it was judged with adverse impact that the 110 KV line of Kerala State Electricity Board is more important than the 2 acre of land with 3 scared groves, 3 ponds and innumerable species of living beings.  The studies by Kerala Forest Research Institute that certified this space as a seed bank, the detailed report of National Museum of Natural History (2011) that testified this as an example of low land coastal  evergreen ecosystem has been thrown to the winds as irrelevant. The alternate path through which the line could be constructed with minimum damage to the landscape has also been ignored and avoided.

The green oasis of Santhivanam belongs to Meena Menon who lives at the edge of this space along with her young daughter has created a unique learning space where students from neighbouring schools, nature enthusiasts from all over the State have been understanding the ecosystem value and services in a comprehensive way. Meena and her late father Ravindranath had the option of selling this to real estate lobby and becoming millionaires. Instead they chose to be the nurturers and care takers of an ecosystem leaving the space for Nature herself to flourish and explore. In the hottest of summers and driest of winter, this abode of peace provides nourishing water in the wells and ponds, not only for humans but for thirsty birds, frogs and unknown beings. The flowers, fruits and leaves of the trees are food for a vast variety of living creatures from bats to butterflies.

2019 has been a special year when our country awarded 2 women octogenarians the Padma Shree for their extraordinary work of creating green spaces by planting trees. The village woman SaalamaradaThimmakka in Karnataka created history by planting 400 Banyan trees along the 4 km road from Hulikal to Kudur. Devakiamma from the coastal town of Central Kerala has created a 4 acre green haven with collection of rare and unique plants and trees. It seems ironical and sad that Meena who has been doing the same kind of conservation especially of a special ecosystem has been ignored and her efforts ridiculed and crushed by the decision makers.

One wonders about the need to hear about green lungs and spaces that bring down the temperature as scary news with warnings about rising mercury fills the air. One listens with anxiety about the unhealthy, stressful atmosphere created by the urban heat islands where concrete, glass, tiles and slabs cover the Earth. One hears the dying whimpers of live soil under the concrete tiles and slabs that are put in the name of hygiene and cleanliness. Amidst all this, one can also hear about how touching soil releases chemicals equivalent to anti-depressants that elevate your positive mind set and make one a better person. One can also read about how people who live in tree filled areas have lower stress levels and how children affected by Nature Deficit Syndrome can be happier, calmer individuals by being out with trees and birds.

There is need to put a value on these factors of life, qualitative and priceless that goes beyond monetary figures. If such a value is put on Meena’sSanthivanam ,Devakiamma’s forest and Thimmakka’s tree row, would we dare cut and destroy them ? Would not the judiciary understand the value of clean air, fresh water, the presence of birds and animals, the green coolness of trees that people like Meena have been protecting for decades so that children can run and play, sleep and wander under the cool shade? When would our decision makers initiate a planning process where environment and sustainability are not just lifeless adjectives and rhetorics but become the real indices of development and progress that does not trample on all priceless things? It would be significant to note that India ranks 140 in the World Happiness Index of 2019 where concerns of healthy life, freedom, generosity are all at stake. And many of these are connected to a healthy and natural environment.

Please take a stance for Meena’s assemblage of trees-the Santhivanam by writing to the Chief Minister Of Kerala [email protected] requesting him to immediately stop the piling and other destructive activities in Santhivanam( NorthParavur, Kerala) and to review the existing viable, alternate paths through which the 110 KV line can be made.

Thanks

Anitha.S in conversation with MeenaMenon and M.N.Praween Kumar supported by members of Tree Walk-Thiruvananthapuram

Anitha.S is an ecologist based in Thiruvananthapuram who coordinates the citizens initiative Tree Walk-Thiruvananthapuram.  [email protected]

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