Whither Kerala?  Problems in the Environment

 

It was with great excitement that I used to view  the splendor of the verdant landscapes, the sea and the mountain range with its intricate patterns.  But, gradually, I began to see the decimation of the face of Kerala. I saw the gradual disappearance of beaches, ponds, canals, and mountains.  The paddy fields and mangroves have given way to highways and malls.  High rise apartment building have defaced the open vistas and blocked the passage of winds and breezes.  The sun is beating down more harshly than it was in my adolescent years. The rivers are sluggish because of the huge pits in their beds owing to the sand and clay mining. The Kerala environment is facing imminent danger.

Urbanization and industrialization coupled with population growth and avid consumerism without  regard to the environment  have polluted the  air, water, and land.  The nonrenewable raw materials are consumed greedily and their wastes are disposed  imprudently.  Natural disasters like earth quakes, tsunamis and landslides, changes in land use patterns leading to soil erosion, and depletion of biodiversity have contributed to the ravages to the land we termed “God’s Own Country”.

Bacteria in solid and liquid wastes contaminate rivers and open wells. They come from emptying domestic and industrial sewage, agricultural discharge  and bathing.  These affect  ground water.  In the coastal areas, the presence of excess salinity, high fluoride, hardness, coliforms (found in the feces of man and other animals), low pH, high iron content, high amount of TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) and higher chloride concentration contribute to the problem. In Palakkadu and Alapuzha, higher than permissible levels of fluoride are seen and low pH and high iron contents are seen in the midlands.  The industrial pollution affect groundwater in Kochi, Palakkadu, parts of Kollam, Kozhikode and Kannur.  Many industries are located in this area and discharge directly into marine and fresh water bodies.  Three hundred medium or large scale and 2,000 small scale industries are culpable.  One million m3 of sewage is created daily and 30,000 m3 of it reaches the surface water.

Kerala has the untold wealth of 44 living rivers. Now, these comfortable waterways and homes for diverse flora and fauna are dying.  Recent droughts, siltation, land and clay mining, deforestation, unauthorized encroachment of banks by resorts and settlers, construction of dams such as the one planned at Athirampally, manufacture of bricks by deepening river banks, indiscriminate use of fertilizers and pesticides, soil erosion, salinity intrusion, discharge of industrial and domestic wastes, and sand mining are major causes of the death of rivers.  The hazardous chemicals like phosphates, fluorides, sulphides, ammonia, and heavy metals reach downstream of these rivers.  Periyar and Chaliyar are prime examples of industrial effluents.  From the Kochi industrial belt, 260 million liters of industrial effluents reach Periyar daily.  Drinking water has become scarce in these conditions.

Indiscriminate and unscientific sand mining is the biggest cause of the destruction of the river ecology.  The foreign remittances  and desire for ostentation have led to a construction boom that led to sand mining from rivers.  Removal of sand pushes the water down and adversely affects the diversity of the ecosystems of the rivers.  Sand holds water and raises the water level of  the nearby ponds and lakes.  Mining of sand sinks water beds and allows the seepage of salinity,  reducing the supply of fresh water and damaging bridges.  Conservation of bird species like storks, sandpipers, and egrets who feed on river beds and fish breeding and migration are also affected.

While travelling, the verdant rice paddies on either side, fringed by coconut palms were always delightful.  Today, open areas have shrunk.  When some proudly claim the grandeur of visiting the Lulu Mall and Shobha City, they seem to have conveniently forgotten what kind of land was destroyed for these private, commercial enterprises.  The real estate operators have been filling paddy fields, canals, and ponds in order to construct luxury villas.   Paddy fields collect rainwater  preventing a free flow into the sea, thus replenishing ground water.    Hundreds of acres in Palakkadu and Kuttanadu, both producing 20% of Kerala’s rice production, are used for setting up industries and others are converted to real state.  Tiling the front yards and surrounding areas do not allow rain water to reach down the ground. The building boom converted the paddy fields in the districts of Thrissur, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Palakkadu, Ernakulam and Kollam into clay mines to meet the demands for bricks and roof tiles.  The abandoned mines collect water in the rainy season depriving water for irrigation.  They also become the breeding grounds for mosquitoes and dumping grounds for garbage.

Water is drained from fresh water lakes and low lying lands are reclaimed for agriculture, increasing the depth of lakes owing to siltation from soil erosion, filling up lakes and ponds to build houses, construction of weirs for fish farming, growth of algae and all kinds of pollution that affect rivers.

Pseudo ideas of progress increased pollution in Kerala.  Automobiles and industries contribute to the major portion of noise and air pollution.  In the cities of Thiruananthapuram, Kozhikode and Kochi, vehicular emission and noise pollutions have reached high levels.  Four major industrial areas contribute drastically to the pollution of air: Eloor, Ambalamughal, and Udyogamandal in Ernakulam and Kanjikode in Palakkadu. Unplanned urban growth has also added to similar pollution.  Loudspeakers are used indiscriminately adding to the chaos. Body absorbs sound and often reacts physiologically and psychologically.  Kerala has become a giant in consumerism and we witness a culture enmeshed in plastic.  The effects of plastic pollution is irreversible.  Its constituents like benzene and vinyl chlorides are known to cause cancer.  The drains are clogged with throwaway plastic bags.  Automobiles emit exhausts containing carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon, nitrogen oxide, lead, sulphur oxide etc.  Motor vehicles cause 60% of the air pollution.  There were .581 million vehicles in 1991; but by 2010, there were 5.397 million.  The number is increasing.  The blaring horns add to the sound pollution.

The indiscriminate use of pesticides and fertilizers has poisoned Kerala’s food chains, vegetables, grain, fish, meat, and even breast milk.  Only 0.1% of the targeted pests are destroyed  by these lethal uses.  The rest is absorbed by humans, cattle, vegetation, and all other biota.  The aerial spraying of endosulfan over government owned cashew plantations has terminated in 486 deaths and affected the health of 4000 for the 25 years since its use began.  Corporations play culpable roles in such situations:The Plantation Corporation of Kerala (spraying of endosulfan),  Grasim Industries of Kozhikode (for 30 years cutting down forests in Western Ghats to feed a rayon factory owned by Birla Group),  and Eloor Industrial Estate in Kochi.  The Chaliyar river pollution devastated fisheries and the air pollution made life in the area unliveable.  The factory is now shutdown leaving jobless workers and a destroyed ecosysytem.  The Coco Cola factory in Plachimada is charged with sucking ground water. Accidental spills from storage tanks, pipelines and oil transportation cause oil pollution.  Methane and ethane in oil cause suffocation,  inhalation of benzene  cause anemia, sulphur damages liver and kidneys  and the suspended particles released by refineries cause lung disease.

Man had been systematically abusing and destroying the land and water in Kerala.  While visiting Wayanadu, I saw lorries being loaded with crushed rock next to the Phantom Rock. The decimation of mountains and the rape of the land was appalling.  The mountains that stopped the Monsoon clouds are gone.  The cavalier excuse is the need for houses.   Respiratory illnesses such as silicosis, asthma, and allergy are common from the dust.  The fragmentary debris fly into trees causing problems for pollination and obstruct and pollute water systems.

Kerala’s ecosystem was lavishly provided with evergreen mangroves (tidal forests) or ‘kandal kaadugal’.   They are the bulwarks against the soil erosion and flooding.   They create a protective zone against wave and storm damages and minimize hurricane destruction of property and life.  Water by the shore is prevented from contamination because of its ability to absorb nitrates and phosphates.  They lessen the impact of global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide and storing carbon. Marine ecosystems are protected here and they are homes to many species and habitats for birds.  By treating them as wastelands or swamps, they are facing deforestation.  Kerala which had 700 km2  of such ‘forests’ at the beginning of the 20th century has only 17km2  at present.  The Container Road in Kochi is a prime example for such destruction.   Encroachment by people, shrimp farming, sand mining, and dumping of wastes contribute to the calamity.  Now commercial hospitals, hotels, and apartment buildings are constructed in areas that need to be preserved.   The common excuse for all these is ‘development’.

Disintegration of Tharavaadu system was detrimental to the sacred groves or ‘kaavu’s.  In the olden times, the presiding deity was menacing to those who encroach and destroy.  These groves are home to a variety of flora and fauna and they preserve biodiversity. They also safeguarded the ancient secrets of herbs.  They cycled water and nutrients and are foremost in conservation.  Water table is replenished owing to controlled water flow. Antisocial activities like poaching and overgrazing are detrimental to the survival of this unique biosphere.

The tropical forests of Kerala suffer from man’s intrusion. Opening up the forests for cultivation, population density,  encroachment, artificial fires and corruption at official levels have contributed to deforestation.  Species are endangered for lack of habitats and  rainfall patterns  change dangerously.

Kerala enjoys a large coastal area (16.4% of the total).  It extends over 580 km. There are 27 estuaries and 7 ‘kayals’. Around 30% of the population  living in this area causes the major harm to the environment around them.   Development of ports and harbors, construction of dams, sand mining for construction and industrial sites along the coast have contributed to coastal erosion.  About 30 to 70 kilometers of Kerala coast is subject to coastal erosion at varying degrees.

Deforestation and soil erosion have given rise to the new phenomenon of landslides in Kerala.   They have become common in Idukki especially during the rainy season.   Environmental degradation is the major cause.

Temperature in Kerala is rising.  Monsoon has become erratic.  In 2017, Thrissur hit the highest temperature in its history: 40degrees Celsius.  In 2016, Kerala experienced a drought after 115 years.  Add to it the seam-bursting population growth, deforestation,  consumption of fossil fuels emitting CO2  and methane from coconut husk retting. Methane  converted to CO2 accounts for 16% and nitrous oxide accounts for 2% of global warming.  Combined, they add up to 93% of Kerala’s donation to greenhouse gas emission.  Changed land use pattern also is harmful to the climatic condition.

Indigenous species of flora and fauna are either replaced or supplemented by foreign species.  Some arrived with natural disasters like the tsunami of 2004 and others came as the result of globalization.  Some came even as status symbols.   The natural order is disturbed by such invasion.  Ichornia from Brazil (1902),  Salvinia from South Africa (1955), eucalyptus  from Australia, widely invasive Lantana from South America,  and Amon,  Uppatorium oderatum are some of the well known species.    A weed causing severe allergy is spreading in Kerala: Parthenium.  The wide variety of rice  are now displaced by newly created hybrids.

The Western Ghats region is home to 24 major biodiversity areas.  Now, indigenous animals are mostly replaced by foreign species and hybrids among the domesticated.  Hybrid varieties of plants and chemicals are exhausting the land. There are 4,500 species of flowering plants, 102 species of mammals, 476 species of birds, 169 species of reptiles, 89 species of amphibians, 202 of fresh water fishes in the state.  But Kerala is experiencing the loss of biodiversity owing to  degradation of domestic agri-ecosystems, conversion of agricultural land, introduction of exotic crops, and mechanized farming. Deforestation due to illegal harvest, forest fires,  diversion for non-forest purposes, soil erosion, bad management , and poor regeneration all harm the biodiversity  natural to Kerala..

Kerala has become a hotspot of tourism in recent years.  All the above issues with pollution augmented when the influx of tourists increased and consumption demanded  more buildings, more encroachment of beaches and environmentally sensitive zones, indiscriminate and unscientific disposal of plastics and other wastes.  Rain forests, wetlands, mountain slopes, coastal areas, and sanctuaries are all ravaged.

People are leaving their homelands  because of their environmental corruption and their inability to earn adequate  livelihood in the changed conditions.  The number of these environmental refugees is rising.  Droought, industrialization, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation, degradation of land  and absolute poverty drive these poor souls.

Kerala is a modern, developed state. India’s propaganda today is for a “Swachcha Bharat”.   Together, there should be some advancements in liberating Kerala from this environmental crisis.  In 1984, a State Pollution Control Board  was set up in Kerala.   The Clean Kerala Mission has been established for a litter free Kerala.  There are State Biodiversity Board and Coastal Zone Management Authority to monitor according to the Biodiversity Act, 2003  and Coastal Regulation Zone respectively.  The Kerala government banned endosulfan in 2011.  Government needs to pass appropriate laws to safeguard our water and the corrupt practices of officials providing sub rosa permissions illegally has to rigorously monitored. But none of these will matter until society and people view their land altruistically.  A change in attitude about self interest and community interest should take place for Kerala to retain the title “God’s Own Land”.

Heavily indebted to:

  1.  blogspot.com/2011/10/environmental-problems-of-kerala.html , Oct 20, 2011
  2. Personal experience.
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Joshua

Eyes intent on the ball,

Body poised,

And the legs primed for action,

The cleats dug into the turf.

He moved swiftly,

Almost furiously

To intercept the rushing ball.

He kicked it long and hard

Past the forwards,

Past the defense,

And past the Goalie,

Angling between the goal posts

Into the corner of the net.

The ball bounced back

To a rush that came

With the uproarious applause

From the stands, “Goal!”

 

Eyes intent on the words,

Day or night,

In a corner

Or under the blanket,

In the sunlight

Or with a flashlight,

He pored over pages and pages.

Oh, the delight

Of traversing in mythical lands

And wading into heroic magnificence,

Transcending

The mundane and the prosaic,

Sailing or flying

Into realms of fancy

Captured between pages

To his internal applause!

 

 

 

Jason

His fingers strummed,

Aching to bring out

A soul searing melody,

And his eyes that saw

The flutter of dreams

Drooped and hovered

Over the strings and frets.

 

His heart raced

In time with the beat,

Ascending to crescendo,

While his legs simulated

The tempo,

Pumping furiously

To dash across

To the finish line

Where the heart begins

To slow down

Like the descending tempo.

The crescendo has subsided

And the race has ended.

Heart quieted

And calm descended

Like the hushed moments

After the finale!

 

 

 

Solomon

Solomon of solemn eyes

Surveyed all and everything

He weighed the objects

And the people-

The books, the toys,

The cars and family.

With great sagacity

And keen acumen,

He chose the red car

And Mother Goose;

Then he glanced up

And bestowed a cherubic smile

On all the beaming faces

Surrounding him.

 

 

Elijah

He smiled, he pouted,

He played with his trains

And was heard

In  gentle monogues

Over the tracks

And over the bridges.

But, on the stage,

In the church,

And in Tae Kwan Do,

He could be heard

With bell like clarity

While his eyes reflected

His infectious smile.

 

 

Aliyah

In some sedentary moments,

One hears  high wailing

And is awoken

To hear the little mite’s

Ear-piercing howl!

But when  she twinkle-toes

Across a stage

In  a luminous tutu

And translucent wings,

Tinker Bell herself

Will not match the magic

In her effervescent smile

And appealing grace.

 

Taunting Grief

Grief is ruthless,

Taunting till one grips it!

 

Shed or unshed,

Tears tried in vain

To wash away the grief

That happened suddenly

And surprisingly.

 

Whether affecting slowly

Or striking with lightning speed,

One is never ready

To withstand the onslaughts,

The ever widening eddies!

 

Where is the foothold

To stop the sinking,

The infinite whirl

That is relentless

And giddying?

 

Try this, try that;

Talk, walk, do something.

Yet, there is no end

To this maddening swirl,

The ever widening whirl of grief.

 

But, there has to be a pause.

A sudden brake

Or a slow lowering pedal

That comes to complete stop

To the maddening depth

That sucks one in,

Leaving only dry leaves

Of plausible memories.

 

Is there a hand reaching down

Or a branch within grasp?

Does this have to be eternal?

 

Reach out for someone,

For a consoling gesture,

Or a shoulder to cry on.

 

It is always an extrovert

Who endures quietly,

The silent grief

Unperceived by the world,

However  excruciating !

 

Is there anyone out there?

Is that a cry in the wilderness,

A cry that wafts with the breeze

That waltzes by, unnoticed?

Is there a Providence

To pull one out of this abyss?

 

Or  reach in

To the core of entity

To find oneself

To bear the grief

That almost toppled

The very existence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eliana

Eliana of the dusky locks,

Dressed in polka-dotted frock,

Lay on the floor,

On the dusty carpet

And was admonished for good measure,

Sent to the corner

To stand immobile.

 

There were repeated transgressions

And the girl paid with the absence

Of all the scenic views behind her.

 

But, when she pulled up the bench

And sat on it,

Running her fingers over the keys,

Playing an arpeggio with nonchalance,

The music was so divine

That one forgot the floor and the carpet.

 

Our Times of Trouble

We live in troubled times. Our environment, our internet privacy, our public school education, our health care and our foreign relations are all at risk. Miasma of collusion between foreign powers and our political leaders is spreading far and wide, enough to threaten the sovereignty of our country and its election process.
We live in a republic. But we also enjoy some democratic features.  We have the right to vote in elections that determine the choice of our public officials who are responsible for the well being of our nation.  This right to vote is sacrosanct.  It should be exercised free and clear. If we are eligible to vote, we should also have an understanding of what and for whom we are voting. In short, we should make every effort to be educated about each political situation and the candidate involved. We should not allow ourselves to be distracted by fake news, Wikileaks and  other news venues with vested interests.
Ours is a world filled with political and business ‘Pinochios’.  “Alternate facts” and lies and half truths surround us. The air of mendacity is ‘ normal’ .  So it is important for the welfare of the land and people  to have a knowledgeable electorate. We should make an effort to learn about the candidates who run for public office.  We cannot afford to sit back and be neutral or ignorant about possible consequences. We should expect transparency from the candidates about their future policies and their political and business associations from which they profit. We cannot allow conflict of interest polluting our country’ s future.  We also need to know the activities of the said candidates.  Our knowledge is imperative because we are going to vote for someone who will hold the future of our town, county, state, or nation. We should not depend upon a single news source for our information; we should fact check periodically and keep dialogues open with our elected officials. Let them earn our trust by backing up their words with actions.  Besides, we should keep track of their voting records.
We have to rise up as responsible citizens.

Grief

Many forms, many faces-

They parade every day!

Grief is among us

Every day,

In tangible nuances

Or concealed mourning!

 

One may cry till the Sahara

Bursts in bloom

Or one may be stoic

And be like the eternal stone

Unmoved outwardly;

One may go to the other Pole

And party incessantly

Or one may grieve wordlessly

Without any sigh or other signs,

Patiently repining.

 

There is grief in lost love,

There is grief in loneliness,

There is grief in rejection,

There is grief

In never being claimed,

There is grief in unexpressed love,

There is grief in abject desolation,

There is grief in eternal melancholy,

And there is grief

In a life that lived well, but transiently.

 

Grief is intense, not bland.

It grips with pincers

And leaves one

In an excruciating cauldron of pain

Or holds one in numbing hoops

That leave life drained.

Grief may come in periods

To lead life in fits and starts.

Grief can be pervasive

Or slovenly, keeping life out of focus.

 

But grief is untold!

Those who grieve

Choose their paths;

They strive to return

To a life before grief

Or pursue some open paths

To life’s untrodden choices.