|Voice of the hills|
|Written by Anitha S.|
Article published in THE HINDU on Saturday, dated Aug 15, 2009
The only people who quit government jobs, to be in a social movement, I thought, were in history books. Not quite.
Kalidas left a nationalised bank to start Osai, with a few friends, in 2000. Their aim — to create a new generation of eco-conscious citizens. Over almost a decade, Osai has sensitised people about conservation, launched agitations against potentially eco-hazardous constructions and attempted to link nature clubs all along the Western Ghats.
Smitten by the ghats, as a schoolboy in Udhagamandalam, Kalidas strives to protect the hills. Agriculture, Industry and drinkable water in South India—all depend on the hills, he says.
“Poaching is not a problem. Habitat loss is the real threat,” he explains. “We can plant trees but we can’t create forests,” he says.
Osai is agitating against tourist resorts in Masinagudi, close to the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in the Nilgiris. According to Kalidas, the number of resorts has doubled in the last three years. “This is uncontrolled entertainment tourism and not wildlife tourism.” He says firecrackers, loud music, and vehicle movement with halogen lights trouble the habitat. These resorts are entirely owned and managed by settlers who don’t care for the environment like the locals do. Tribals usually don’t grow crops in elephant territory but even when they do, they allow elephants to eat what they please. That’s because they recognise the elephant’s rights over the forest, he explains.
“But, the new generation of farmers have extended agriculture up to the hills,” he says, “destroying the plains forests. Elephant herds migrate only in plains forests.” If the trend continues, all plains forests, and the migration paths in them, will be lost within 40 years, he adds.
“Three studies of man-elephant conflict in Coimbatore district have found the change of land use patterns to be the cause... Agricultural land is being used for construction,” woes Kalidas. To protect both agriculture and the elephants a buffer zone of 500 metres from any forest is needed, he says. “No development should be allowed in this zone. Fifty years ago the priority was roads. Now it is forests,” he emphasises. The silver lining is that the state government plans to buy all elephant corridor land that is now in private hands, he says.
“No importance is given to the Western ghats in school curriculum. It is a unique eco-system. The Shola grasslands, that retain the rain, are the origin of all rivers of the south. They are our lifelines.” Kalidas explains.
Catching them young
Osai, which means “voice of peace and nature”, is attempting to coordinate eco clubs in schools and colleges along the Western Ghats in the state, right from Kanniyakumari to Udhagamandalam. “We want to network these clubs for protection of the environment and set a perfect agenda for them like the National Service Scheme or the National Cadet Corps,” he says.
“In our college days in the 80s people with social concern met students. There is no forum for that now due to the job based curriculum in higher education,” says Kalidas. But he still has hope. During meetings in colleges, teachers admire the zeal for conservation among students, he says proudly. Youth are mobilized for programmes and agitations by text messages. “Many turn up. It is instant,” he exclaims.
Osai organises monthly enviro-meets and nature camps where naturalists discuss conservation with common people.
“Development comes not only from IT, share trading and industry. Sustainable development is only possible with conservation,” says Kalidas.
Osai wants to make stakeholders, like politicians, industrialists, journalists, intellectuals and farmers, aware that without food and water security we can’t be developed.
“If we don’t subsidise agriculture, we lose skilled farmers and food! Ecological value is permanent, not money,” he says. “Developed countries have a keen concern about their wildlife. It is through their channels like Discovery, National Geographic and Animal Planet do we come to know of wildlife. But we have it all here,” he adds.
Kalidas sounds a note of caution — “We can grow trees. We can’t create forests. We have to conserve what we have left.”
இயற்கை காக்கும் எமது பணிகளில் நீங்களும் பங்கேற்கலாம்