Save Kurinji Campaign enters new phase

kurinji-bloom in bloom

kurinji in bloom at Kurinjimala Sanctuary, Kerala, India

The Save Kurinji Campaign was started by a group of youngsters in the eighties against destruction of the shola grasslands of Munnar and Palani Hills and its flagship species neelakurinji (Strobilanthuskunthiana) which flowers once in 12 years.

The first of its campaign march from Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu to Munnar in Kerala was inaugurated by none other than Zafar Rashid Futehally (1920 – 2013), Indian naturalist and conservationist best known for his work as the secretary of the Bombay Natural History Society in 1989.

The campaigners marched from Kodaikanal to highlight the loss of sholas to plantations of eucalyptus, wattle and pine. Besides the Save Kurinji Campaign Council, those associated with the campaign included the Palani Hills Conservation Council and High Range Wildlife Preservation Association. This led to increased awareness about the importance of sholas and their flora and fauna. Campaign marches and other programmes were organised in the subsequent decades also.

At that time there was few studies about sholas. But soon there were several, including a book on shola forest published by the Kerala Forest Research Institute.The studies and campaigns led to stoppage of eucalyptus plantations in Kerala and Tamil Nadu though those planted already continued to affect the ecosystem.

In 2006, the campaign met with its major success with the LDF government declaring 3200 hectares of kurinji habitat near Munnar as Kurinjimala sanctuary for protection of kurinji and its habitat. The then Forest Minister Benoy Viswam took special interest in conserving the habitat. Before that, the UDF government led by OommenChandy had cleared the area of ganja cultivators and set up a forest station at Kadavari. The Palani (Kodaikanal ) wildlife sanctuary was formed in 2013 by Tamil Nadu government.

The Eravikulam National Park in Kerala was already a protected area for conservation of shola grasslands. The Year 2006 was a year of flowering of kurinji in several areas including the Park. The Forest Department paid special attention to keeping the Park free of fires in summer. Protective measures were also extended to the newly formed Kurinjimala sanctuary. This helped in maturing of the seeds of kurinji and its propagation. The results are expected to be seen this year when the kurinji plants in these areas are due for their next cycle of flowering (between July and October).

As phase of the next phase of the campaign, those who participated in earlier save kurinji marches and younger nature lovers will be gathering in Kodaikanal on June 1 to 3 to relive the memories and chart out campaign for consolidation of the gains. As done in 1989, they will be going around the Kodai Lake to mark the beginning of next phase of campaign.

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