The 5th of June: World Environment Day.
The newspaper was alive with stories of environmental initiatives. Initiatives by individuals and by organizations. Individuals who demonstrated commitment to their cause and fought all the obstacles that constantly threatened to drown their efforts at environment conservation. Organizations that awakened to the threat posed by the ruthless human manipulation of the environment. Government initiatives to take up projects directed at environment conservation.
The stories were heartening for they identified individuals and organizations who believed that the environment is our collective responsibility. In the light of the contemporary attitude that the environment is the responsibility of environmentalists and nature activists, these stories certainly brought a warm glow within.
In the evening, I attended a meeting that aimed at setting up a district tree conservation committee. The idea was to give a public dimension to environmental concerns. It is high time we realize that our governments have no political accountability and in the absence of political accountability, it is futile to talk about democracy. In such a setting, the public must come to the forefront and take charge of issues that collectively concern us. Citizens in every village/city/district must come together as a team, identify challenges and concerns of their region, and set up their own committees to tackle these challenges. The team must ideally be constituted by volunteers who demonstrate true passion and a genuine concern towards the issue. It is only then that we shall succeed in uprooting the existing political scenario, which is largely driven by power and money. It is only when we create a model of reference for a system that the system is compelled to change and transform.
The individuals that had gathered here today were hard core nature enthusiasts and tree lovers. Their commitment towards their cause was palpable and therefore, infectious.
The discussion started on a casual note. Someone mentioned the newspaper report on the biodiversity park being revived by Kannur University:
‘Good initiative by the Kannur University in terms of the aquatic biodiversity park project that is being revived and conserved.’
An elderly gentleman laughed and shed light on the fact:
“ The campus used to be a wetland area before it was reclaimed for various developmental activities, destroying the rich flora and fauna in the area. Most of the area has been irreparably destroyed and all that is left is this tiny strip that has gained much publicity in terms of the revival and conservation efforts. The mass destruction went unnoticed and without publicity. When we destroy an element of nature, do we ever take permission from the thousands of creatures that are feeding off that ecosystem? ”
I was moved by his passion and the deep grief that was palpable in his words. He continued:
“ Didn’t you read the newspaper today? There is avid tree-planting going on in the city today. Oh, how commendable! Do you have any idea how much fund is allocated for such initiatives? It is only the middlemen who benefit from such initiatives. The government allots funds and only a small portion of that fund goes into the affair. Besides, does anybody contemplate on where to plant trees, their viability and their further nurturing? ”
He echoed his thoughts on Madayipara with misty eyes:
Have you not heard of Madayipara? It is nothing short of paradise. It is a hill, rich in its biodiversity, with medicinal herbs that are nowhere to be found today. Madayipara is bare of trees and that attracts migratory birds as they migrate towards South East Asia. You see, they don’t arrive in search of Madayipara as a destination. When they fly overhead, they are attracted to the sight of this vast expanse of a flat hill with a lake, bare of trees, and they decide to explore the place. It is then that they decide to stop over.
Imagine then the thoughtlessness of the political initiative to plant trees on this hill. Not only does it lack viability on account of the geographic conditions of the soil, but it also disturbs the delicate balance of the ecosystem.
I found myself moved by this 70-year old man whose passion for the environment had transformed him into a true environmentalist. He awakened me to the realization that formal degrees have so little to do with one’s passion and potential. The man reflected such deep contentment in his engagement with nature and his efforts at environment conservation that I made up my mind that I would participate in the nature expeditions he conducts. He was so fluent in Malayalam and English with such a rich choice of words that the superfluous youngsters of this generation would certainly cringe.
Of what significance are all your external labels- your educational qualifications, your attire, your accent, and all aspects of your external self when your internal self cannot live up to that?
Madayipara is a laterite hill located in Pazhayangadi in Kannur district. Madayipara is a significant spot owing to its bio-diversity as well as history. With regard to the bio-diversity of Madayipara, it has been found that the region contains about 300 flowering plants, about 30 varieties of grass, and several insect-eating plant species. Madayipara is also home to several rare medicinal herbs, which are sought by people from near and far off places. Coming to avian life, Madayipara sustains about 100 species of butterflies and about 150 species of birds. Among the biggest butterflies in the world, the Atlas butterfly is a visitor to Madayipara.
“Madayipara is rooted into my childhood. It is a relationship that I share with the place. It pains me to see my childhood paradise being manipulated and destroyed under the banner of development or tourism”, he said to me.
I met yet another gentleman who laid down strong guidelines for the functioning of the committee. He recommended a tree survey as the first step in the conservation of trees. And thus, with the help of an expert, we start a tree survey on Saturday. The survey would include data on the trees in the public places in a defined locality, including details such as the age of the tree, its current status, its viability, etc. This would therefore enable a monitoring of these trees- a small step towards what this team envisages as a significant project in the future. He shed more light on the rules that are conveniently forgotten in the name of development:
“As part of the government scheme to develop roads within the state, certain roads were identified to be in need of widening. One stretch of road that runs in Pazhayangadi in Kannur district was part of this project. Huge trees fringed this road. As per rule, the felling of one tree must be supplemented by the planting of ten saplings of a similar species. Funds are allocated for the same. Not a single sapling was planted. “
I now understand why it is important to involve people who have a deep understanding of an issue when we tackle issues. The answer to our environmental issues does not really lie in planting trees on World Environment Day. Every district must form an environment conservation committee constituted by nature enthusiasts and experts. They must provide the direction for a political execution of the project. Also, we must remember that it is perhaps more important to conserve existing ecosystems than to create new ecosystems. The wisdom of the elderly and the energy of the youth must be utilized.
Most importantly, we must remember that the environment is our collective responsibility. We must all therefore participate in such activities on our own terms under the guidance of such a team. We must relearn the art of establishing a relationship with our environment for we are all part of a larger whole and our integrity is rooted in the integrity of our environment.