Silver Jubilee of Save Kurinji Campaign

kurinji 2014 bloom-in-meadow

Kurinji in bloom on hill slopes near Munnar in 2014

Tholkapiar sang centuries ago about neelakurinji plants that blossoms like a carpet over the mountain peaks once in 12 years. Today, that plant is part of a threatened ecosystem—the shola grasslands.

In September 1989, a group of nearly 40 men and women set out from Kodaikanal on foot to have a look at the plant and campaign against its destruction. They included members of the Palani Hills Conservation Council, Kodaikanal; Asambu Greens, Trivandrum; and a host of nature lovers and activists. The march led to the formation of the Save Kurinji Campaign Council soon after. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the march. The participants of the march will be gathering again in Kodaikanal on October 2 to commemorate the jubilee. There will also be a meeting in Munnar on October 4.

About Neelakurinji

Neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) is a shrub that used to grow abundantly in the shola grasslands of Western Ghats in India. It flowers gregariously once in 12 years. However, on different locations, the flowering may take place in different years. Thus, kurinji has flowered in some areas of Munnar and Kodaikanal from July this year. However, it will flower in places like Rajamalai and other parts of Eravikulam National Park only in 2018. (The last flowering there was in 2006).

Once, kurinji used to cover the entire Nilgiris like a carpet during its flowering season. However, now plantations and dwellings occupy much of their habitat. Destruction of shola forests have also reduced its presence in Munnar and neighbouring areas.

Save Kurinji Campaign

The campaign had actually started in the eighties after K. V. Surendranath (then  Member of Kerala Assembly), Dr. Velayudhan Nair, Suresh Elamon, G. Rajkumar and P. K. Uthaman had a rare glimpse of gregarious flowering of kurinji in shola grasslands between Kodaikanal and Munnar, most of which were soon after converted into pine plantations. The campaign was also prompted by destruction of the habitat by fire and encroachments.

After the 1989 march, the campaign continued through the past 25 years. Several marches, exhibitions, talks and programmes were organised. One of the prominent marches was one that was held in 1990 when kurinji was in full bloom at the same locations as they are now. There was also a major march in 2006 and programmes in connection with the formation of Kurinjimala Sanctuary.

The campaign had contributed significantly in crystallising the idea of a sanctuary to protect the kurinji habitat and release of a commemorative stamp on kurinji in 2006. The blooming of neelakurinji and the need to protect its habitat got media attention thanks to the campaign. During 1990 and 2006, thousands of people flocked to Munnar to see the kurinji bloom and a kurinji fest was organised by the Government at Munnar in 2006.

Kurinjimala Sanctuary:

The Kerala Government notified part of the habitat of kurinji (shola forests) as the Kurinjimala Sanctuary in 2006. It comprises of 32 square kilometres in the Kottakamboor and Vattavada villages in Idukki district of Kerala. The declaration of the sanctuary was made by then Minister for Forests Benoy Viswam at the Neelakurinji Fest at Munnar on October 7, 2006.

The sanctuary is contiguous to the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary and Anamudi and Pampadum Shola National Parks.

The Government notification said that the sanctuary would ensure the long-term protection of the entire biodiversity of the area, especially Strobilanthes kunthiana and its habitat. Private land holdings having titles in the villages are excluded from the sanctuary area.


You may also want to read my original report on which this post is partly based.

Mullaperiyar studies are public documents

The Kerala State Information Commission has ordered Kerala Irrigation Department to release study reports and documents, submitted by it before the Supreme Court in the Mullaperiyar case filed by Tamil Nadu, under Right to Information Act. (See earlier post here)

The Department had refused to provide reports including the Dam Break Analysis on the ground that they were documents of “Strategic interests of the State” which were not required to be released under the RTI Act. The Commission did not uphold this contention and points raised by the Department in very detailed 70-page affidavit.

The complaint against the Department’s stand was made to the Commission as back as  in March 2012. The hearing was taken up only by the middle of 2013 and was completed by September 2013. However, the Commission took nearly six months to issue the order.


Order of State Information Commission

Earlier posts:

Mullaperiyar: behind the veil
Mullaperiyar dam break analysis: area of submergence
Mullaperiyar: strategic failure of Kerala government
K. T. Thomas and Mullaperiyar
Mullaperiyar: Directive against disclosure of dam break analysis
Mullaperiyar and Kerala’s technical studies
Conclusions of empowered committee of SC in Mullaperiyar case

Befooling endosulfan victims:


Endosulfan victims staging a sit-in in front of the official residence of Chief Minister Ommen Chandy in Trivandrum in January 2014

It is more than three years now after the National Human Rights Commission gave its recommendations on compensating the victims of pesticide endosulfan in Kasaragod district in Kerala.

The State government led by Oommen Chandy rules with the motto of acting fast to achieve more in less time. However, even three years after the Commission gave its directive; the State is yet compensate all the victims and carry out the four recommendations given by it. The Central government is also to carry out another set of recommendations such as nation-wide survey of populations that have been affected by the use of endosulfan and supplementary efforts to support relief and remediation efforts of State government including establishment of a Palliative Care Centre.


Another view of endosulfan victims staging a sit-in in front of the official residence of Kerala Chief Minister Ommen Chandy in Trivandrum in January 2014.

The delay in implementing the recommendations by the State government belies its claim that it is a fast-acting government. In fact, several of the packages announced by the State and Central governments are in limbo including that for the endsosulfan victims. (The first of these was for the evictees of Moolampally for Vallarpadam project.).  It even appointed a committee, headed by retired judge C. N. Ramachandran Nair, to befool the victims and delay implementation of the recommendations.

This has forced the endosulfan victims to stage a protest sit-in in front of the Chief Minister’s residence. The agitation has since been settled though decision is pending on demands like rejection of the Ramachandran Nair committee report. However, doubts linger whether the government would only make a half-hearted attempt to carry out its promises just to tide over the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, whereas concerned, planned action is called for in Kasaragod.


Mainstreaming tribals

Attappady-- a view  Photo: Roy MathewChief Minister Oommen Chandy proposes to bring Attappady tribals to main stream as the government has failed to address their problems after six decades of ‘tribal development’.

Well, his plans are for the next generation. Children from the tribal hamlets are to be educated in special model residential schools and all eligible students given admissions to the Plus One and undergraduate courses.

This is a course of action that had been tried in countries such as USA, Canada and Australia which have invited protests. However, such protests over uprooting the tribals from their culture are muted in Kerala. Many anthropologists hold opinion against weaning tribal children away from their culture and mainstreaming them. But the questions whether they should be allowed to live primitive lives or proselytised to adopt modern lifestyle is an enduring question.

As to the immediate problem of malnutrition among tribals, the government has come up with an answer—community kitchens. Mr. Chandy’s view is that the tribals do not eat well. Many are so lazy that they are willing to cook. It is not clear whether the tribals would come regularly to the community kitchens to eat. Even if they do, that could make them lazier as far as cooking goes. Better, if community kitchens teach them how to cook and encourage them to do their own cooking.

Tribal Women at Agali, Attappady

Tribal Women at Agali, Attappady

But the real problem in Attappady is not that the tribals have not learned to cook or made eating cooked food a habit.  The real issue is alienation of their land, destruction of forests and restrictions on their access to forest resources including food materials. However, the Chief Minister refuse to acknowledge this and take strong measures to resume their lands despite court verdicts. Even problems like drunkardness stemmed from land issues. Alcoholism spread as a result of exploitative tactics of the settlers in Attappady.

Studies have reported that the deaths of infants in Attappady were not the result of alcoholism among their mothers. It happened because of malnutrition. The government wants now wants all tribal women to give birth at hospital to ensure the nutritional status of mothers and children. For this, vehicles are to be provided. On one hand, this is better said than done. Many tribals had failed to get timely medical attention not because of lack of schemes or vehicles but because the officials concerned did not care. On the other side, it is notable that Kerala is emphasising on hospital based deliveries when the West that promoted it is now going back to midwives and deliveries at home.

Agriculture development policies to befool farmers

Agriculture policy-- publicity photo

Publicity material showing submission of the draft agriculture development policy to Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy on July 11, 2013.

The draft Agriculture Development Policy of Kerala, drawn by a drafting committee chaired by K. Krishnankutty, tries to befool the farmers at least in respect of the highlighted policy initiatives.

The flagship proposals are what is called Actio apportum (translated into Malayalam as Avakasa Labhom) cess, to be routed to small and marginal farmers of paddy, and incentive to farm workers. This is described as a legal demand of right for sharing revenue or profit generated out of farm produce when it is traded.

However, this is nothing but a less-than-5 per cent subsidy for paddy production, totalling to about Rs. 400 crores annually. This amount could very well have been provided as a direct subsidy from government after collecting one per cent value added tax on rice. Still better, it should have been funded from revenues gathered elsewhere.

The policy, on the other hand, proposes collection of Re. 1 a kg as cess at the end point of sale of rice and payment to the farmers through Agriculture Department. The traders/millers would pass on this cess to the consumers or the farmers themselves by reducing the procurement price of paddy. So, this Actio apportum could just be a mirage.

The real right of the farmer is to get remunerative prices in the market place or through procurement by government. The policy has only usual bureaucratic proposals like “Price Fixation Authority” and minimum support price to address that. The experience so far is that procurement has not actually worked well because funding procurement has not been a priority for government.

The cess proposal would only serve to increase the size of bureaucracy especially in the Agriculture Department. There would have to be separate accounting and even a vigilance mechanism to detect evasion. A portion of what is collected as cess will vanish this way. The proposal also has a flaw in that the benefit is proposed to be limited to small and marginal farmers. Paddy production is to be sustained and it is not always the marginal farmer who can achieve that. So, all paddy cultivators would have to be provided with subsidies.

It also leads to a dichotomy in policy. The government had been lifting tax on rice in past budgets with the avowed objective of helping the poor. Now, it is thinking of a cess instead. Tax on branded rice, which is not consumed by the poor, would have been the best option to raise funds for subsidy.

Cover design of the draft policy

Cover-page design of the draft policy document on agriculture development, Kerala.

The incentive proposed for agriculture workers is Rs. 6 a day. For an agriculture worker earning around Rs. 600 a day, this is a pittance. The Agriculture Department will have to maintain accounts and keep tab on the status of the worker and days of work done by him to make the payments. This is when the Department’s job is increasingly becoming disbursement of incentives and subsidies instead of providing extension services.

The real objective of the Latinisms and rhetoric about farmers’ rights is votes in the forthcoming elections. The politicians can claim that the present government has, for the first time, recognised the right of the farmers (called Actio apportum ) for a share in the profits of middlemen who are buying rice for Rs. 22 a kg and selling at exorbitant rates (up to Rs. 90 a kg.)!

Publicity material about the policy speaks of improving the status of farmers. However, actually the policy equates farmers to Class IV employees of government by proposing income guarantee “to the tune of that received by a Class Four Employees in State service”!

The policy proposes that farm lands should be reserved for agriculture, banning sale or use for no-agricultural purposes. Such a restrictive land use policy could be detrimental to the development of the State. Kerala could not remain an agrarian State for long (as the examples of developed societies show). So, some agriculture land would have to be used for industrial and infrastructure development. Anything that prevents establishment of agro-industries and production of value added products at the farm level would even be harmful.

So, implementation of this policy would have to fine-tuned, keeping overall development of the State in view. What actually is required is measures to check land being purchased and sold for short-term profit. Leaving land fallow should be discouraged by imposing higher tax on uncultivated land. Such a policy could be imposed by offering the low tax rates only for land certified to have a certain level of crop density.

Another proposal is to provide yield and sex assured animals to livestock farmers. Genomic section programmes are to be used to produce sexed semen that will ensure that only female of the species is born. It ought to be examined whether this would impact diversity which is crucial to prevent mass casualties from unanticipated diseases.

Oommen Chandy’s fight against drought

A cardamom estate in Idukki district

A cardamom estate in Idukki district

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has been touring the districts during the last fortnight to chart our measures to fight drought. At the same time, he ignored large scale felling of trees in Idukki district and the precarious condition of forests in Wayanad. (Mr. Chandy is now holding the Forest portfolio, following the resignation of K. B. Ganesh Kumar). This shows the dichotomy between the government’s campaigns and ground-level enforcement of stated policies.

The felling of trees in Idukki is significant in more ways than one. Forests in Idukki are crucial for availability of water both for Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The longest river of the State Periyar has much of its catchment in Idukki district. Many important power projects including Idukki is located here. Still, Mr. Chandy did virtually nothing to stem the felling of trees in the district while announcing so many other measures to check drought.  He is finding solutions without addressing at least one of the known the causes– deforestation.

It is also significant that the felling of trees had taken place against the background of Gadgil committee report. The trees felled were of two types. Forest species in cardamom estates and eucalyptus on encroached forest land. It was feared that if the Centre implements Gadgil recommendations, it might become impossible to cut and remove these trees because of restrictions. Hence, the hurry in cutting and transporting hundreds of lorry-loads of trees from the district.

The biggest protests against the Gadgil panel had originated from Idukki district. Now, it should be clear who were behind these protests. They brought time through the protests and appointment of K. Kasturirangan panel to scrutinise the Gadgil report. Now that the astrophysicist-led panel has given its verdict on Gadgil report, it is high time that the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests stepped in to implement the recommendations.

Neo colonialism on the climate change front

As India heads for Doha discussions on climate change this week, a question that arises is whether we would be entering into agreements similar to the ones the princely States of India entered with colonial powers. Like the way colonialism stymied our development, the climate talks too have the potential to crush our growth.

An old story
Pepper attracted foreign traders to Kerala for centuries and one of the things the Europeans wanted, back in the 18th century, was runner shoots of black pepper vines for planting.  As the story goes, then ruler of Calicut Zamorin asked his minister Mangattachan about the wisdom of allowing planting material to be taken to Europe when pepper exports earned much money for Kerala.  The Minister’s reply was that they could not take away the Thiruvathira Njattuvela. [Najattuvela means position of sun and there are 27 njattuvelas in Malayalam calendar. The Thiruvathira Njattuvela (15 days), occurs around the middle of South West monsoon which is considered suitable for planting shoots of pepper vines.] However, the situation now is that even the Thiruvathira Njattuvela would be taken away by the over-consumption of developed nations.


The 18th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Frame Work Convention on Climate Change and the eighth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol takes place from November 26 to December 7, 2012, at the Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha, Qatar.


Carbon  loads

Historically, the USA has emitted nearly 50 times more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than India.  Rich countries have been responsible for about 70 per cent of the emissions between 1840 and 2006. (CSE ) However, they are not willing to shoulder the burden of reducing emissions in proportion.  The USA is yet to agree to bring down their emission levels to that of 1990 while the European Union has already brought it down by 16 per cent below1990 levels.

Global emissions have grown from 534 million tonnes of carbon in 1900 to 9265 million tonnes in 2011 (Earth Policy Institute).  Per capita emissions of USA were more than ten times that of India in 2011. And there is urgency in addressing the problem because climate change is at the doors.  However, countries are not making enough commitments to check global warming.

At Doha, developed countries would be trying to eliminate the differentiation between the developed and developing countries in cutting emissions. This has to be fought against by developing countries. The developed countries need be accountable for the carbon load they had dumped on the world knowingly and unknowingly over the years.


Forest Minister’s prescription for tiger menace

Kerala Forest Minister K. B. Ganesh Kumar has directed forest officials that tigers straying into populated areas should be trapped and kept in the zoo. This goes against the spirit of the Wildlife (Protection) Act.

Tiger in zooThe Forest Minister should be probing the real reasons for tigers straying out of the wild instead of suggesting quick fix solutions. Some people have suggested that there is an “over-abundance” of tigers in Wayanad now. This needs a closer look.

In last few years, tigers have moved into areas they were not seen at least for the last few decades. There is indication that the tiger population in the State has gone up and tigers have moved into adjoining areas. In places like Kottoor, no conflicts between the newly arrived tigers and tribals living in the area have been reported.  This may be because the forests are healthy and with adequate availability of prey.  The status of forests around Agastyarkoodam had improved in recent years but the same cannot be said for Wayanad.

That a tiger need a territory for itself is well known. So, it only natural that tigers move out as their numbers grows.  With camera trappings and other technologies available now, the number tigers and the area available for them can easily be determined. If there are too many tigers as claimed, measures to shift some of the tigers to other suitable areas should be worked out. If it is not a problem of territory, steps should immediately be taken to improve status of forests as in Wayanad.  Studies in this respect should cover the neighbouring States of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It is possible that some problem in those States such as shortage of water could have forced the tigers to flee.

Till the studies are over, the Forest Department can tackle the lifting of domestic animals by tigers by providing adequate compensation. If compensation is good enough, agitated people could be pacified as long as there are no attacks on humans.  So, the Minister’s quick fix solution can perhaps wait.

Meanwhile, the Department should speed up its programme to shift people living within the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary to other areas. This is a voluntary programme and people living in pockets inside the forests are willing to relocate. (This may not apply to people living on the periphery who are also threatened by tiger kills.)

It has turned out that the tiger that caused all the trouble was an unhealthy one. In such isolated cases, the Forest Minister’s prescription is correct. However, it should not be applied in all cases of tigers staying into populated areas. Much of the public protests,  which forced the Minister to make his statement, was the result of deliberate campaign and rumour mongering by vested interests.

Related: Media frenzy over tiger kills


Conclusions of empowered committee of SC in Mullaperiyar case

The final hearing of the Mullaperiyar case is likely to begin in February next year before the Supreme Court. (The date is tentatively fixed as February 19, 2013). The report of the Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court on Mullaperiyar Dam has gone totally against Kerala. So, Kerala will have to disprove the Committee’s findings or advance fresh and acceptable arguments if it is to win the case. The Court has said that that it would not accept fresh evidence including the Dam Break Analysis.

Baby dam

Baby dam saddling the main Mullaperiyar dam. Repairs were carried out to this dam despite objection from Kerala but with tacit support by officials. Another round of repairs are underway now, reportedly with the permission of the courts.      Photo: Roy Mathew

It is notable that the Committee has suggested repairs to the dam even while holding that the dam was hydrologically, structurally and seismically safe. The repairs have already begun.

The repairs proposed include treatment of upstream surface of dam, reaming of drainage holes, instrumentation and grouting of dam body. It has also suggested “periodical monitoring, analysis and leading away the seepage from toe of the dam towards downstream “.

The Committee found that the dam has not been adversely affected by leeching of lime dissolved in seepage water and rejected Kerala’s contentions in this regard. (That leaching has occurred is something that even Tamil Nadu had admitted. The dam had already been grouted for this reason and further grouting is proposed by the Committee itself. )
It said that the precautionary principle is not applicable as the dam has been found safe, and added that the Dam Break Flood Analysis and Emergency Action Plan do serve as precautionary measures. The findings of studies by Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkie and Delhi were rejected.

The Committee said that it did not accept the scare of a dam break flood wave because the Kerala government had not prepared dam break flood analysis. (The dam break analysis has since been done and it leaves little doubt that a dam break would be catastrophic.)

Conclusions of the Report in full at
Appraisal and analysis of various studies by EC Committee(Chapter VI of report)
Report of the Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court– all chapters
Mullaperiyar Dam break analysis by IIT Roorkee
Structural stability analysis of Mullaperiyar dam

CBD: Living in Harmony with Nature

The motto “Living in Harmony with Nature,” recommended by the 11thConference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity for activities related to UN Decade on Biodiversity highlights the spirit of the Convention and the Conference that concluded in Hyderabad last week. However, the Conference could only make limited progress in taking decisions towards implementation of targets set at its last conference.biodiversity

Part of one of the biodiversity hotspots of South India– Agastyakoodam and its environs. View from Bonaccord in Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala.

India brokered an agreement to double financial flows for implementation of the Convention’s strategic plans to protect biodiversity by 2015.  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced India’s ratification of the Nagoya Protocol on access to genetic resources and benefits sharing and made a pledge to allocate US$50 million during India’s two-year COP presidency, for enhancing India’s human and technical resources to attain the Convention’s objectives and for promoting capacity building in developing countries.

The Convention has decided to push for enough number of nations ratifying the Nagoya protocol so that it could come into force and the next conference of parties could focus on implementation. The Conference Secretariat was asked to take steps to develop a draft strategic framework for capacity building.

It called for discontinuation of incentives for that biofuel technologies that may aggravate drivers of biodiversity loss while acknowledging biofuel’s potential positive contribution to mitigating climate change.

It could not do much towards establishing control and regulatory mechanisms for geo-engineering other than advising the precautionary approach. The framework of the Convention may not even be sufficient to deal with larger effects of geo-engineering. The Convention failed to agree on action to address concerns about synthetic biology.

The Conference made an impressive number of decisions on several eco-system related issues, achieving synergies with other international efforts. Progress could be made towards address marine diversity issues such as such as marine

debris and ocean noise. Countries have been very slow in working towards  achieving the Aichi targets and the next conference in South Korea would undertake a mid-term review of progress.

India’s biodiversity and the Convention on Biodiversity
India’s biodiversity & Convention on Biodiversity– Part II