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The Cochin Natural History Society is a non-profit making, non-political charitable institution registered under the Travancore-Cochin Literary, Scientific and Charitable Societies Registration Act, 1955. This is a society of amateur naturalists who live in harmony with nature and seek to protect and to preserve the biodiversity and healthy natural environment. The mandate of the society is to undertake studies and documentation of biodiversity around us and to draw attention to the aesthetic, economic, scientific and conservation aspects.The society also intends to provide a platform to those who are concerned to come together and share, enlarge and correct our knowledge about Nature and its magnificence. Any person, who has a love, interest and commitment towards conservation of our biodiversity and natural history may become a member of the society*.

"You can know the names of a bird in all languages of the world,but when you are finished ,
You will know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird.....
So let`s look at the bird and see what it`s doing --that`s what counts.
I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."

-Nobel Laureate Richard P Feynman(1918-1988)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Dr.Latha Anantha(1966-2017)

Dr. Latha Anatha (1966-2017)

"A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”

-From “A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (Vox Clamantis en Deserto) : Notes from a Secret Journal (1990).

"Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread"

-From "Down the River", p. 148.

"Growth for the sake of growth is a cancerous madness.”
_From "Water", p. 114.

All the above quotes are by the famed American environmental writer, Edward Abbey. The reason he and his memories came alive IS because of Dr. A. Latha, who passed away this morning (16-11-2017). For those who knew her intimately no words could measure their deep feeling of loss. She has articulated her convictions and emotions rather bluntly than choosing to be diplomatic. Rational foundations of her arguments would have escaped the eyes of the naive and by those who refused to look beyond their preconceptions. Like Abbey, Dr.Latha was a true patriot, a champion of nature and wilderness, environmental frugality, one who believed and lived to show that that it is possible to have a value system deep-rooted in the ethics and economy of nature.

She started off as a student of biology, earned an advance research degree in agricultural sciences, worked with state agricultural department and never ceased to be a student of nature. But the Philosophiæ Naturalis that she imbibed was not the one of Newton’s. Moving closely with a small but influential and significant group of naturalists who had informed the nature of environmental consciousness in Kerala and elsewhere, she had decided to rededicate herself in defence of nature. S.Unnikrishnan, a poet-hearted mechanical engineer who returned home from metropolis has given her company. It was her deep rooted selfless conviction that powered her articulations, made them influential among the youngsters. Gradually, a small collective of people who are interested in studying water, river, continuity of life around it formed and the River Research Centre (RRC) was born. Like Arne Næss, the deep ecologist who defined a watershed as the ultimate nation we live in, Dr.Latha and team had understood rightly that only a river basin is the nearest approximation the life supporting system of earth. They belived that all other boundaries would only invoke ecological externalities leading to incalculable ecological and social costs.

All the works that the team taken up preceded meticulous collation of data and information which were put into right perspective- the ecological wisdom (which many of us who are schooled for the worldly would not subscribe to). It is evident in all the major arguments put forth in all the three books she had (co-)authored. RRC gradually accumulated an impressive collection of information, data and documents which formed the basis for building arguments in support of Environmental Flow and continued protection of forested catchments. The idea of conservation was thus not merely about conservation and planting of a few trees but a whole universe of life support system which included people as well. That is the story of building arguments in support of Chalakkudy River and people in both downstream as well as upstream, campaigns against the proposed hydro Electric project, defending the Gadgil Committee report, movement to restore the first if not second irrigation project in Kerala (the Thumboor Moozhi weir and irrigation system).

The Thumboor Muzhi weir and its associated canal network were conceived and partially built even before the formation of Kerala state, for augmenting the rice paddy cultivation by irrigating about 196.90 sq. km of land in Aluva, Mukundapuram and Kunnathunadu Taluks. In the post-independence decades, due to scramble for boosting ‘industriousness’ in the state and for increased power generation, a series of inter-basin diversion projects came up in the Chalakkudy River diverting water and thus altering the flow regime in the river. Beginning with Parambikkulam Aliyar Project down to the Poringalkuthu there are two major inter-basin diversions and more than five dams in the Chalakkudy River on the upstream of Thumboor Moozhi Weir adversely impacting the flow regime of the river and water availability in the irrigation canals. The irrigation canals including the branch canals had a total length of about 400 kms! After 1980s, due to the power generation projects, interbasin diversions, peak load power production controls, the water starved Thumboormuzhi irrigation project could not deliver promised amount of water to the tail end. Gradually, canals were dried up for decades. Canal land was encroached up on, and filled in some cases beyond recognition. Food crop cultivation in the command area shifted to commercial cultivation not requiring irrigation. Dr.Latha and team could clearly perceive the state ideology, the love for mega projects, the crave for more power generation beyond the requirement of subsistence to cater the capitalist interest at the cost of small viable irrigation projects catering the needs of small holder farmers. So a ‘Bhageeratha’ effort was began. A team of young, dedicated, evergreen enthusiasts started gathering information on the irrigation scheme, unrelentingly, unyieldingly talking to land grabbers, Panchayat members, uninteresting and often stubborn, megalomaniac government officers, engineers who think they know best...400 km of canal net work...tracing the decision makers at the peak load control station, reverting back to KSEB top brasses to change their priority. Two years of campaign, water reached tail end of one canal after more than three decades !

That was a moment of great joy and celebration. Many from across India arrived to take part in the meeting that was held in a noisy, small, bare hall in the Chalakkudy town. Dr. Paul Appasamy, Engineer trained at US, expert in water resources, earlier director and professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies and Madras School of Economics had earnestly listened to Ravi’s and Rajaneesh’s presentations and commented that ‘power generation schemes at the cost of an irrigation scheme- this would not happen in Tamil Nadu’. The reason he said was that in Tamil Nadu, when two farmers meet they invariably ask if everything is fine with vyavasaya?-referring to the agriculture. Were as in Kerala agriculture is not vyavasaya (industriousness). For us Keralites vyavasaya means factories and boilers, production line, raw material docks and mining. Paul Appasamy’s comment captured the essence of the work and perspectives of the Latha and team. The effort was truly at par with the legendary ‘Bhageeratha’s’ effort. And the perspective, Against the Grain- the dominant ideology.

Thumboor Muzhy is just one instance. Many small and large campaigns... All supported by sufficient data, maps and information, passion and emotion. Though some who hold a different perspective about the meaning of life and different idea of future but less knowledgeable about the ecological net that support our present may disagree. There are many truths in the world; Some backed by greed, arrogance of power and devices of state centric education catering the imbalanced accumulation of capital; yet another flowing gently, lovingly and caringly all the world that is around us. For Dr. Latha, a caring, quick, witty, bold and gentle, uncompromising lover of web of life the truth meant the latter. 
(Coutsey- C A Abdul Basheer)

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