Voices for Vedanthangal

Through Vedanthangal - Protecting our Future, naturalists insist the need to rally behind the cause of saving the bird sanctuary 
Birds flocking to the sanctuary
Birds flocking to the sanctuary

CHENNAI: Just a few years ago, Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary would not have elicited much excitement in most people; save for the bird watcher who grew up on the local safe house’s population of fascinating visitors. Well, we cannot say that any more. Not after youth-led initiatives have been at the fore of the fight to save the sanctuary from being denotified. Not after children from across the state joined the fight with only paper and paintbrush as weapons of choice.

Not after even national environment groups took notice and stepped in to do their part. While there is a temporary hold on the plan to denotify 40 per cent of the sanctuary as the court reviews the case, here’s Kalpavriksh and Chennai Climate Action Group with a reminder in the form of a documentary short, Vedanthangal - Protecting our Future, of everything we stand to lose. 

For Kalpavriksh, getting people from grassroots together to network and get the best of the alternative resources available is not something new. They have been doing it for quite a few with their national network Vikalp Sangam. Part of this process is to build a repository of information — from field studies to documentaries to raise awareness. It was for this that Kalpavriksh and CCAG came together and made the documentary. 

Youngsters in action
“The last two years, some of our work has been on what youth are doing, and youth-led initiatives. We commissioned this documentary because we had heard of young students getting involved and how it created a lot of attention about the Vedanthangal issue,” says Sujatha Padmanabhan, a member of Kalpavriksh. The documentary brings everything you need to know into a bite-sized package that is designed to not overwhelm the viewer. It places young people, who had been actively involved in the Save Vedanthangal campaign, at the forefront, says Mohit Arora, the director. 

“We wanted to focus on the issue at hand where the government is denotifying sanctuaries and reserve areas across the country. While most media coverage has highlighted the graver aspects of the issue, we also wanted to highlight the participation of youth and schoolchildren in the initiative. The film has their voices, besides the people directly affected by this,” says the independent filmmaker. 

A league of its own
In the documentary, writer and activist Yuvan Aves talks about the mutually beneficial ecosystem that serves both the birds and the farmers in the village. And how it all stands to fall perhaps, it’s already headed that way, given the findings of their independent investigation with the government’s prospective plans. “Vedanthangal is a very special place for various reasons. One is that the hydrology and geography of the place of deep knowledge of how the landscape functions it is through eris. If you look at the physical map of Kanchipuram and Chengalpet, even today after extraordinary disruption, encroachment and covering up of lakes for real estate and so on you’ll find about 2,000 eris.

And people understood, a long time back, that this was the way to live here; to let water percolate and make way for it to flow. Human beings are rarely a positive geological force. But, the Vedanthangal and eri system grew and made the ecology of the place so much richer in a mutualistic way. Birds and farmers are friends there. This is stuff we can go and learn about; schools can run their modules around it. If more people know about it, they can stand up for it,” he surmises. 

It was for this reason that naturalist and Ebird reviewer Vikas Madhav Nagarajan joined the fight to save the sanctuary that is home to around 187 bird species. “What people say is when you denotify the place, the lake is still going to be the same. But, there’s more to it. The deep lake is mainly a roosting site and breeding ground. The feeding grounds for most birds are spread across the sanctuary and some of them are also agricultural lands. When you start denotifying, all this will get affected,” he says, adding denotification will only help in the development of industries, and unsustainable development at that.

Perils aplenty
And the proof is already in hand, says public health researcher Dr Vishvaja Sambath. Samples from waterbodies downstream of the three industries there showed the presence of four synthetic chemicals. While some of them are carcinogenic, some are believed to cause damage to the central nervous systems in humans. Even as the impact on birds have not been studied, children in the region are born with congenital conditions and birth defects already, she points out. 

While the documentary is yet another means to keep people informed of the developments, there is little to do but wait for the court’s judgment. In the meantime, it is important to come together for the cause. In that way, Vendanthangal - Protecting our Future is titled aptly, and just in time for World Earth Day too. At a time when the country’s environmental resources are threatened by one government plan after another, how do we not gather and show support. Earth Day cannot be just in the name, can it?

Making of the documentary
Kalpavriksh has been getting people from grassroots together to network and get the best of the alternative resources with their national network Vikalp Sangam. Part of this process is to build a repository of information from field studies to documentaries to raise awareness. 

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