A man, a mission, and ideas help conserve Kerala's environment

On the World Environment Day, Express looks back on how a man, a mission, two ideas and two initiatives helped in conserving the environment.

Published: 05th June 2017 03:54 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th June 2017 07:09 AM   |  A+A-

Shahul Hameed, 44, planting a sapling at a roadside at Mulleria in Kasargod

Express News Service

A modern day Noah sans the ark

“Father, why don’t we have an elephant in our forest?”  Eight-year-old Shaham posed the question to his father Shahul Hameed, a Kannada higher secondary teacher residing at the northern tip of Kerala. He believed a forest is not a forest unless it houses large animals. But for Shahul Maash - as the 44-year-old is popularly known - his family’s eight-acre land in Nakraje, Pundoor near Chenkala in Kasargod is a haven for all animals, big and small.

“All creatures of the world need a shelter. My father taught us this and our family believes it. I have seen hundreds of creatures on our land,” Shahul said.  “Once we had to cut down a jackfruit tree as it was about to fall on a building. My elder brother Mohammed was furious when he got to know of this. He wanted the building to be shifted instead,” Shahul said.

Two of his brothers, Mohammed and Abdul Khadar are in the Gulf, while another sibling Abdul Rahman is a higher secondary teacher.

“My wife Asma is also an HSS teacher. We could keep the land as it is as we have income from other sources. Many asked us to convert it into a plantation. We don’t need to,” he said.

Shahul’s forest is home to over 70 varieties of plants and winged creatures, including the migratory birds. The hilly land stores water too. Hundreds of mango saplings have been planted by Shahul on the roadside in Mulleria and Anthoor. He knows he might not be able to taste all the fruits from the saplings.

“I ate fruits from trees some stranger had planted. I am repaying that debt. Even if a bird eats a fruit off a tree I planted, I feel it will be my noble offering,” he said.

Initiatives

An act less ordinary: Rejuvenating a river

The newly-revived Kuttamperoor river and the ordinary men and women behind its resurrection were in the limelight recently as the river emerged as a ray of hope for waterbodies facing extinction. It had been a natural flood control channel between the Achankovil and Pampa rivers, as it flowed south when water rose in the Pampa and towards the north when Achankovil filled to its brim.

But illegal sand and clay mining, coupled with encroachment, acted as catalysts for its slow death. The inlet which bustled with hectic activity was reduced to mere brook and had everything, right from garbage, mud, filth, sediments to snakes and hyacinth. All except water flow, that is.
That was when MGNREGS workers of the Budhanoor panchayat - through which the rivulet flows - stepped in.

A sum of Rs 72 lakh was earmarked for a 70-day initiative under the MGNREGS. Around 700 workers, mainly women, undertook the clearing work which kicked-off on December 8 2016 and ended on February 15. “We will form an action force to maintain the progress we made,” said Budhanoor panchayat president P Vishwambhara Panicker. “The work had several positive advantages. Water level around a 5-km radius increased and the use of water from the river for purposes other than drinking went up. In the next phase, the project will be of Rs 4 crore with the Nabard’s support.

The Irrigation Department has prepared a detailed project report which will focus on the widening, deepening and desilting of the river. Coir mats will also be put on the shores. Action will be taken to evict encroachments with the help of a satellite survey,” he said.

Digging deep to break the gender barrier

Women digging a well at the
Pookkottukavu panchayat in Palakkad

Wise people have a tendency to convert every imbroglio into an opportunity. The Pookkottukavu panchayat in Palakkad proved this last year.

Following the government’s restrictions on several activities under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), several panchayats found it hard to carry the scheme forward.

Not the small panchayat under the Srikrishnapuram block of the district, though.

Instead of backing away, the panchayat - which is populated by nearly 18,000 people in 13 wards and faces difficulty in quenching its thirst owing to a shortage of proper sources for potable water - set out to try options in land and water conservation.

“In October last year, we thought of digging a well under the MGNREGS. It was not easy as all the participants were women and nobody has heard of women digging up wells due to the hard work it requires. The women themselves were unconvinced and felt the work was too risky for a meagre Rs 240 a day. The men, who would have got Rs 800 daily for the work, were also not willing to take it up,” said Pookkottukavu panchayat president K Jayadevan.

“But five women led by a 60-year-old lady tried their hand at the work on the property of Odattil Sharada in ward 12. Though there were difficulties, the attempt bore fruit. In the ensuing six months, that is, till March 31 this year, around 300 women dug 190 wells in all 13 wards of the panchayat,” Jayadevan said. The unprecedented success has led to the panchayat receiving 200 applications this year. “Work is progressing on five of them,” Jayadevan said.

Mission

Striving for a change in attitude

What is common to the state school arts festival, the Attukal Pongala which entered the Guinness Book of World Records for having the maximum number of women participating in the event on a single day, the swearing-in ceremony of the new Kerala regime and the Sukapuram Athirathram, a Vedic ritual conducted after 96 years?

It was the Green protocol, an innovative idea that saw the events being conducted by substituting disposable items with reusable materials like steel and glass.

Launched by the Kerala Suchitwa Mission (KSM), the technical arm of the Local Self Governments Department, the Green Protocol aims at reducing the generation of non-biodegradable waste.“Green Protocol has utmost importance in waste management,” said KSM executive director K Vasuki.

“At present, we follow a ‘throw away’ culture, which began around two decades ago. In the waste management hierarchy, ‘reduce’ towers above reuse and recycle. We have to reduce waste as waste management is basically an attitude which should begin from home,” she said.

Kerala became the third state in the country to be declared Open Defecation Free under the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin). Around 1.75 lakh toilets were constructed in rural area under the initiative with KSM as the implementing agency.

Ideas

Marasena, an army for fruit trees

Though a collective for conserving the environment, Marasena, which coordinates its activities via social media, has no events planned on June 5, the World Environment Day.

“We chose not to organise any programmes as several others are organising various events on the day,” said Marasena member Jayaraj Mithra.

The initiative sprouted some 50 days ago during an informal conversation on the sets of a short-film. The idea was simple - plant seeds of trees which yield edible fruits. A mango seed planted on a roadside at Arimboor in Thrissur marked its beginning.

“We planted the seed on the side of a wall without permission. We had expected a scolding from the house owner. To our surprise, he said he will water it,” recalled Jayaraj.

In the ensuing days, Marasena members planted nearly two lakh seeds in 20 locations across the state. The largest sowing took place at Pookkottukavu panchayat in Palakkad where one lakh seeds were planted in a day.

“We aimed at planting seeds of mango, jackfruit and tamarind trees. We chose seeds over saplings as they survived even the scorching summer. They will survive even in difficult situations in which the saplings may fail. Replanting saplings may kill them. I tried this on my family property that was lying barren. I applied the information I gained from Russian books,” Jayaraj said.

Marasena has three Whatsapp groups and is now on the verge of forming a fourth. “We decline monetary contributions. But everyone is welcome to contribute seeds,” he said.

‘100 ponds in 50 days’

When the Ernakulam district administration embarked on its pond-revival project, it sounded like any other well-rhyming project. In two months, the project surpassed its target by around 50 ponds.

“Twenty years ago, the district had more than 2,000 ponds. It has been reduced to around 600. Since we faced the severest drought in 115 years, rainwater harvesting and pond-revival were the only options left. Under the project, we cleaned 151 ponds in 60 days,” said District Collector K Mohammed Y Safeerulla.

The project is a follow-up of the ‘Entekulam’ initiative pioneered by Safeerulla’s predecessor M G Rajamanickam following the devastating floods at Chennai in 2015.

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