KANNUR: With no aura of sacredness around and hardly any government initiative to protect them, Kanams, small evergreen groves with perennial river-feeding streams, found on the slopes of laterite hills in north Kerala are being ravaged by quarrying and dumping of waste.
In government records, Kanams of Kannur and Kasargod are marked as revenue wasteland and there are no official statistics on their number, area and biodiversity. The state government itself, on several occasions, has distributed Kanam land to beneficiaries of various schemes and for public purposes. Researchers say there are at least 15 big Kanams and hundreds of small ones dispersed in revenue and private land, varying in size from one acre to 15 acres.
“Kannur and Kasargod districts together boasts of 19 out of the total 44 rivers in the state. All rivers except four or five among them originate from Kanams; they also account for several small rivulets,” said Dr E Unnikrishnan, who wrote ‘Utharakeralathile Visudhavanangal’ (Sacred Groves of North Kerala), a pioneer study on Kavu.
Surangams, the unique water harvesting method practised in Kasargod district, and now globally renowned, are originally sustained by Kanams. “The Dravidian word Kanam, meaning forest, is more ancient than Kavu or Kadu (forest). Originally, they must have been ancient eco-cultural landscapes where early human habitats thrived. It has references in Sangham literature,” said Dr E Unnikrishnan. Researchers recently identified a new species of plant Rotala khaleeliana from Kanayi Kanam.
The Kanam in Kanayi, an unassuming village ten kilometres from Payyanur town, hides a small lake under a thick canopy of a variety of Madhuca trees and ‘Chedavally’ (Dalbergia horrida), a climbing plant with strong curvy thorns. A small waterfall cascades down into the lake and flows towards Vannathippuzha, a few kilometres downstream.
Kavu, or sacred groves, are often protected because of the beliefs and myths and even the government have come up with plans to protect them. But, Kanams, which have no such sacred aura, fall an easy prey to human encroachers. “From here it (the falls) looks very beautiful,” K Sajeendran, a resident of Kanayi said, but the real scene up there tells a different story. A number of laterite quarries on the other side have dug out a good half of the hillock from where the fall oozes down. You can see huge gorges left by the quarries,” he said.
Once a perennial source of water for the entire area and for the paddy fields down the stream, Kanayi Kanam now almost dries up in summer, he said. The locals have formed a committee to protect Kanayi, but other Kanams in North Kerala, are not so lucky. “Chattanchal Kanam in Kasargod has turned into a dumping area for slaughter waste and plastic,” said Dr E Unnikrishnan. The case of Thachangad, Podippallam and other Kanams in the area are no different.
Dr V S Vijayan, former Chairman of Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB) said that Kanams are as important as sacred groves in a bio-diversity perspective and should not be allowed to die. “These biodiversity rich spots can be protected as community reserve,” he said. Oommen V Oommen, chairman of the KSBB, said that he would immediately seek data on these ecologically fragile spots from district coordinators. “We would definitely propose a plan to protect Kanams,” he said.