Saturday, 30 August 2014

By trashing the Gadgil report recommendations, did we just kill the Western Ghats?

Older than the Himalaya, the Western Ghats, 1,600 km long stretch, makes its way through 6 states. Its ecosystem plays a critical role in influencing the monsoon and weather patterns in the subcontinent. Known for its exceptionally high biodiversity and endemism, unique only to this part of the world, it is home to Tiger Reserves, National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, and Reserved Forests. It is the source of thousands of medicinal plants. What makes the Western Ghats special is that while its total area is less than 6 % of the land area of India, the Western Ghats contains more than 30%  of all plant, fish, bird, and mammal species found in India. It contains genetic resources of numerous spices, grains and fruits. More importantly, the Ghats and its forests sustain the livelihoods of approximately 245 million people who live in the Indian states that receive most of their water supply from rivers originating in the region.

When Jairam Ramesh was the Minister for Environment and Forest, he commissioned renowned ecologist Madhav Gadgil to study the Western Ghats and offer recommendations for its conservation. The report, when ready, was neither shared and nor made public for over a year.

After PILs were filed, the Court ordered the MoEF to put the report in the public domain -  Gadgil called for the highest protection to the Ghats and marked the entire Ghats as eco sensitive. He classified the entire area into three zones, depending on how fragile it was. He also recommended a gradual phasing out of all existing mining activities over five years and no new licenses to be issued.

The then UPA Government squashed the report which was found to be inconvenient to the wants of industry. The Kerala government was the first to strongly oppose it claiming it is impractical and will come in the way of its “development”. Other states chanted the same mantra prompted by the mining and real estate lobbies.

Ramesh’s successor , Jayanti Natarajan, dismissed the report and sought a second opinion - that in itself was wrong and caused some amount of confusion .She commissioned  K Kasturirangan to do another study. When complete this study found that only 37% of the Western Ghats is eco-sensitive and that mining, construction, dam-building and other destructive activities can be allowed in the rest of the area of the Ghats. Kasturirangan diluted the Gadgil report to favour industry and appease the crony capitalists in all the states through which the Ghats and its spurs run. Till now no decision has been taken in favour of either report.

Madhav Gadgil is better placed than Kasturirangan to recommend to the MoEFCC about  protecting the Western Ghats - one is an ecologist who knows the Western Ghats better than anyone else, the other a scientist, and ex planning commission member.

Sadly the decision to reject the report was communicated on August 27 by the NDA government to the National Green Tribunal. Once again, the debate is cast as a split: if you support Gadgil, you are called anti-development, anti-growth, regressive etc. But the evidence has been gathering all along the Ghats for decades - in an era of climate instability, fast-changing monsoon patterns and the pressures of urbanisation and resource extraction, the destruction of the Western Ghats as is now being sanctioned by the BJP-led NDA government will dangerously affect the climate of peninsular India and further endanger the livelihoods and well-being of millions in the river basins whose streams originate in these lush hills.

Those who support full and non-negotiable protection of the entire Western Ghats are not idealists; they are amongst those Indians who keep our connection with nature current, a connection that goes back to the Vedas. It is capitalist forces and growth-obsessed policies that will, if unchecked, brutally destroy that relationship – a relationship that was celebrated in the hymns of the Rig Vedas.

It is in our long-term interest to protect every hillside and valley and stream of the Western Ghats and not open up the fragile region to senseless "development". If we do not, generations to come will pay a huge price.

This article first appeared in DNA on 29th August 2014

Friday, 1 August 2014

GM crops debate needs Swadeshi voice

By the end of the active stage of the ‘Green Revolution’, the result of the long campaign had been to take away from Bharat’s farmers their legitimate claims to being scientists, innovators, natural resource stewards, seed savers and hybridisation experts.

The agro-ecological farming systems of Bharat have been placed under modern threat from the time that the ‘Green Revolution’ was planned. This planning became manifest through the direct policy support given to the public finance and sanction given to the creation of ‘command areas’ which were fed by the water collected behind new large dams. But it also became manifest through the connections that were being created between our national agricultural research system and the West, in particular the agricultural universities of the USA.
That threat took form from the early 1960s, and one of its results was to lead a generation of crop scientists, agricultural administrators and State and Central Governments to accept ‘high yielding’ and ‘productivity’ and ‘hybrids’ as the only dimensions of the relationship between staple crops and the provision of food to Bharat’s people. These views were successfully marketed, thanks to sustained and continuous support by the Government machinery, to the consuming public, and even found place in school textbooks in all major languages. In this way, the idea that a ‘scientific’ approach to new ways of growing our staple crops was projected to our society as being the only modern way.
When this happened, for over a generation of younger citizens who became adults in the early 2000s, the idea that agriculture is equal to well-applied doses of science was one that went largely unquestioned. Meanwhile, the role of the kisan was deliberately diminished. By the end of the active stage of the ‘Green Revolution’, the result of the long campaign had been to take away from Bharat’s farmers their legitimate claims to being scientists, innovators, natural resource stewards, seed savers and hybridisation experts. Instead, they were reduced to becoming recipients of technical fixes and consumers of the poisonous products of a growing agricultural inputs industry.
It is against such a background – which is a chapter of the overall transformation of the cultivation of food in Bharat – that the opposition to genetically-modified crops and food is to be viewed. The steadfast opposition to this technology is grounded in the recognition that our country’s immense biodiversity of seeds, plants and life forms is our collective heritage, which has evolved through the cumulative innovations, adaptations and selections of many generations of indigenous farming communities, for whom these seeds and life forms are sacred.
When this position is understood, then the reason why genetically modified organisms – uncontrollable and irreversible when let into the agro-ecological environment – and their produce is so despised, becomes plain. It is not a matter of science alone, as the geneticists and their financiers claim, but has as much, if not more, to do with culture, independence and self-reliance. These are essential aspects of the GM discussion which the proponents and advocates cannot employ, because none of these aspects favours their position.
Articles such as ‘GM crops debate can do without Swadeshi paranoia’ (by Surajit Dasgupta in Niticentral, 30 July 2014) follow a pattern of advocacy. They treat technology of GM as being by itself the silver bullet that can solve all crop problems, they elevate GM scientists over all other science related to the practice of agriculture, they denigrate shamefully and belittle the farmer and her knowledge, they cast slurs on all those who are critical of GM and seek to discredit them by citing academic papers and other material that advocates GM. This is the pattern that we are seeing not only in Bharat, but wherever there is opposition to GM and to the policies that the technology depends on to enter a country.
The growing of our crop staples, of vegetables and fruit has to do with a great deal more than the adoption of a particular technology. On everything other than the need (always framed as urgent) to accept GM, the proponents and advocates of this technology can join no discussion, for that is the limit of their argument. For a generation, farmers’ groups and unions have been protesting the neglect that farm livelihoods have been subjected to. They have protested (and continue to) policy impacts that have caused the displacement of farmers in huge numbers because smallholder farming earns them nothing, or because their farms are swallowed up by racing urbanisation; they have been demanding a minimum living income as a guarantee to all farm households, which must be their due as food growers.
Who are they and what do they have? They have 85 per cent of the total holdings in Bharat (117.60 million marginal and small holdings of the total of 138.34 million) which account for 44.5 per cent of the land area under agriculture (71.15 million hectares of the total of 159.59 million hectares). It is this large section of our people, the providers of Bharat’s food on that 85 per cent of all farm holdings, whom we are accustomed to call ‘annadaata‘, that is represented by organisations like the Bhartiya Kisan Union, the largest farmers’ union in the country, which has opposed GM crops (and field trials) from the outset. “We are concerned about farm community’s and nation’s seed and food sovereignty which will certainly be eroded when GMOs are pursued as a technology,” was the BKU statement, which powerfully shows us why GM is a socio-economic, ecological and cultural question, none of which are subordinated to science.
This is what worries the growers of Bharat’s food. Technological and market fixes have not shortened this list of worries but have done the opposite. The subject for us is the growing of crop staples, or crop choice, the methods used to cultivate, the support that the ‘kisan’ finds, and the environmental and cultural links between crop grower and food consumer. When considering this multi-dimensional nature of food and farming, it is important to note (which the GM advocates and proponents omit) that conventional crop breeding continues to meet important challenges like improving drought tolerance, improving nitrogen fertiliser efficiency, and increasing yields according to the contexts of the different agro-ecological regions in our country. When we reached self-sufficiency in food staples, we did so by relying on crop breeding together with providing support (erratic as it was, prone to politically manipulation) to our ‘kisans’. Where then is the place for GM?
There is none. That is why proponents have resorted to quoting papers that are designed by institutions outside Bharat which have a great interest in facilitating the grabbing of Bharat’s genetic commons and bio-cultural heritage to be privatised and monopolised. The Bharat Beej Swaraj Manch had stated their opposition to GM most forcefully in a statement (released in New Delhi earlier this year): “We assert our sovereign rights to freely plant, use, reproduce, select, improve, adapt, save, share, exchange or sell our seeds – without restriction or hindrance – as we have done for past millennia.” GM has no place in this assertion, by a countrywide seed savers’ network, of the rights of kisans.
There is no place for GM under any of the scenarios presented by the proponents (climate change in particular). As an indication of our enormous agro-diversity, the National Gene Bank of the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources has said that its base collections total 402,894 accessions of 1,586 crop species. These include 159,569 cereals, 57,523 millets, 58,756 pulses or grain legumes, 58,477 oilseeds, 25,330 vegetables, 6,872 medicinal and aromatic plants, and 3,847 spices and condiments. There is in this astonishing collection (and the kisans’ own collections) all that our country needs to find staples that will deal, as Surajit Dasgupta has mentioned, with “increasing temperatures, decreased water availability in some places and flooding in others, rising salinity, and changing pathogen and insect threats”.
The methods to deal with these have been practiced by the cultivating households (of which there are many within our 167 million rural households) in the 20 agro-ecological regions of Bharat and their 60 sub-regions over which are roughly apportioned the diversities of soil, climate, physiography, the availability periods of conducive moisture (which determines the length of growing seasons). They had perfected crop rotations (largely abandoned by industrial agriculture) and which can increase yields by even 20 per cent, the water holding capacity of soils (woefully under-studied) had been improved, they lowered susceptibility to drought by planting cover crops that increase soil organic matter, they had saved themselves from water pollution by nitrogen and the need for pesticides.
This is a small glimpse of the wider context in which the GM advocates and proponents work, but they do so outside the dimension of cognitive justice that ties us together – acknowledging the right for different knowledge systems to exist with their associated practices, livelihoods, ways of being, and ecologies to coexist. It is organisations like Anchalika Krushak Sanghatan of Odisha, Bhu Adhikar Abhiyan of Madhya Pradesh, Ekta Parishad, Gujarat Khedut Samaj, Bharat Swabhimaan Andolan Lucknow, Shetkari Sanghatan of Maharastra that are rearticulating this wider context in which GM and the techno-capital domination is represents. These are a few amongst the many organisations that have created diverse spaces which democratise food, its research and its provision, and whose hundreds of thousands of members practice bio-diverse ecological agriculture free from the narrow issues of technology and its overlords.

Authored jointly by Rahul Goswami and Viva Kermani
First appeared in Niti Central

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

GM food crops – Why India must say no

When the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) on July 18 decided that open field trials of 21 new varieties of genetically modified (GM) crops should be permitted, the arguments contra and pro became considerably more intense. That a single committee is seen to have the experience and foresight to judge the consequences of allowing open field trials of genetically modified rice, wheat, maize and other food crops can hardly be believed, but that is the state of what passes for ‘regulation’ these days.

Desperate to corner the Indian market, which is seen in international agri-business as vital for the long-term profitability of the food bio-tech companies, the GM seed companies have pulled out many tricks in order to try and make their arguments convincing. The latest attempt is to claim that India needs GM food crops to feed its growing population and that without GM crops we will never be able to feed ourselves. This claim is worse than specious and is amongst those that provoked outrage enough to lead the Minister into distancing his Government from the decision of the committee.

What GM technology proponents fail to tell you is that India has been self-sufficient in food staples for over a decade, and more than that for cereals. Today the country grows about 100 million tons (mt) of rice, 95 mt of wheat, 170 mt of vegetables, 85 mt of fruit, 40 mt of coarse cereals and 18 mt of pulses (refer to the Economic Survey for the data). These totals ensure that our farmers grow enough to feed all Indians well with food staples. We have 66 mt of grain, two-and-a-half times the required buffer stock (on January 1, 2013). The country has reached this stage through, first and foremost, the knowledge and skill of our farmers who have bred and saved seed themselves and exchanged their seed in ways that made our fields so bio-diverse.

This is the aspect that the GM proponents, such as Amol Parth (‘GM Field Trials-Government must be guided by Consumer and Farmer Choice‘) miss or omit by design. Instead, the statements that they use such as “thousands die of hunger daily in India” are irresponsible and baseless scare-mongering with a view to projecting GM as the only answer. When our people go hungry, or suffer from malnutrition, it is not for lack of food, it is because their right to safe and nutritious food that is culturally connected has been blocked. That is why it is not a technological fix problem and GM has no place in it.
Recognising the wider context, the Technical Expert Committee appointed by the Supreme Court, in its interim report of October 17, 2012, had also recommended a ten-year moratorium on field trials of Bt food crops. Why did they do this? No field trials of Bt transgenic crops until gaps in the regulatory system are addressed, the committee had said. Field trials are conducted before establishing biosafety as GM contamination from field trials may be detected after years, and such contamination is irreversible. Yet the GEAC has chosen to ignore the Supreme Court recommendations – this must be questioned.
Moreover, the TEC could not find any justification for India becoming the first country where major food crop that is directly used for human consumption is genetically modified. The health risks are too great. Routinely, the GM industry influences scientific journals to publish reviews purportedly showing that GM foods are safe on the basis of long-term animal studies, whereas they show considerable evidence of risk and use unscientific double standards to reach conclusions not justified by the data. This is part of the GM lobby’s bag of dirty tricks, a bag now opened in our country.
A common argument made in favour of GM crops is that the farmer benefits as yield increase. This is a totally spurious claim designed to hoodwink our farmers, who are already struggling with high input costs. European countries are often criticised for their opposition to GM whereas impartial research has shown that Europe’s mostly non-GM agriculture delivers higher yields than the USA’s mostly GM agriculture with less pesticide use. On the contrary, it is the GM-adopting USA that is falling behind Europe in terms of productivity and sustainability.
Seventeen years after its introduction, only 3.4 per cent of the world’s agricultural land is sown with GM seed. If this technology is as wondrous as its mischievous supporters claim, and is the answer for improved yield and lower costs, why has it not been embraced more widely? Quite simply because the good sense of farmers has halted its spread. Food growing countries, states, districts and farmers understand fully well that GM technology is about patents and control. Letting GM in will mean exposing the farmer, the consumer and the nation to unacceptable risk. Our seed sovereignty is dear to us. That is why the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), India’s largest farmer union, on July 21, stated that GMOs are unsafe and are not needed in India.
For a country that has great diversity and a vast repository of seeds and knowledge that come to us from agricultural systems many generations old, it is in our national interest to protect our seeds and traditional knowledge and bar multi-national seed companies that want to control our food system. This is what swadeshi economics means.

This article first appeared in NITI Central

Monday, 21 July 2014

GMOs are uneeded and unsafe - says India's largest farmer union

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) on July 18th gave the green signal for field trials of genetically modified (GM) rice, mustard, cotton, chickpea and brinjal at its meeting in Delhi. This has led to widespread condemnation by various groups - from  the RSS, to  Swadeshi Jagran Manch,  Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS),Gujarat Khedut Samaj, Organic Farmers’ Association

 I am reproducing the letter here as its not available online

Below is a copy of the letter from Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) dated  July 21st, 2014

Shri Prakash Javadekar,
Central Minister for Environment, 
 Forests and Climate Change (I/C),
Government of India,
Paryavaran Bhawan, CGO Complex,
New Delhi.

Respected Shri Javadekar,

Sub: GMOs are unneeded and unsafe – urge you to cancel field trial approvals given by regulators.

Respected Sir,
Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) is the largest farmers’ union in the country working for farmers’ rights and benefits in various states of India. From the time the debate unfolded in India on the controversial technology of Genetically Modification (GM), we have been opposed to GM crops being allowed in India, including for field trials. 

The reasons for this are many – we are concerned about farm community’s and nation’s seed and food sovereignty which will certainly be eroded when GMOs are pursued as a technology. This is because most genes as well as processes of transgenics are already patented and these IPRs work for the monopolistic or oligopolistic benefit of profit-hungry corporations like Monsanto. It is well known by now that the ease with which transgenic technology allows corporations to claim ownership rights over seeds is what makes it attractive to these corporations who spin lies around why the world needs these GMOs. All their claims are hyped, unfounded and false whether it be related to productivity, or lack of need for chemicals or stress-tolerant GMOs etc.  GMOs, backed by IPRs, are the way by which corporations want to control entire food chains. The implications are clear and have already been experienced by farmers here in India in the case of Bt cotton and elsewhere, in the case of other GMOs too. Seed prices will increase exorbitantly; these corporations will not hesitate to sue even governments in their pursuit of profits; seed choices will be highly limited for farmers; farmers will be driven to make irrational choices with a changed scenario related to seed supply; farmers will be sued in the name of proprietary rights when GM contamination happens, which of course is inevitable. All of this seriously jeopardizes the livelihood security of farmers.

Another important aspect of this debate is the lack of safety of GMOs – there is enormous scientific evidence that is already available to show that GMOs are unsafe, both for human and animal health and for our environment. If our crop ecosystems are disrupted, and our very soils affected, once again it becomes a livelihood security issue for us farmers.

A neglected but important side to this debate is that of the very need for GMOs. It has been shown very convincingly by scores of scientists in India, in a letter addressed to a former Environment Minister that GMOs do not bring in food security; on the country, in countries which opted for GMOs in a significant manner, the food security indicators worsened. For all the various problems that GM is touted as a solution for, there are better, safer answers which are actually more affordable both for governments to take the solutions to farmers, and for farmers themselves to adopt. It is these solutions that need to be promoted urgently, while GM is a dangerous, unneeded, costly distraction.

Sir, BJP seems to be belying its promises in its manifesto by allowing deliberate release of untested GMOs into the environment through the latest approvals accorded by the GEAC. 

We urge you to intervene and get the approvals annulled immediately, to keep the party’s word to the electorate of this country, to show respect towards the judiciary which is right now looking into the matter through the PIL filed by Ms Aruna Rodrigues and others, and most importantly to show conclusively that your government will act on behalf of citizens’ interests. Like we said, there is not a single convincing reason why the government should rush ahead with these trials of new organisms in our Nature and environment. Once again, we request you to cancel the approvals urgently. Thank you.

Naresh Tikait Dharmendra Malik        Yudhveer Singh
(President BKU)    (Coordinator BKU)           (Genral Secretary BKU)

Sunday, 8 June 2014

And all is not lost

Just a quick update on my earlier post in January of this year - Mad About an Airport   and the controversy in Kerala about the plan to construct a stupid airport amidst cast acres and acres of paddy fields,destruction of wetlands in the heritage town of Aranmula.

In an era of rapid loss of natural resources, accelerated deforestation and an insatiable need for high speed everything, I feel bouyant  that last week, the Chennai bench of the National Green Tribunal revoked the environmental clearance for the proposed Aranmula Airport project. The Aranmula Heritage Village Action Council chief patron Kummanam Rajashekharan, a senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak has been leading the struggle against the airport in 2012 .
Kummanam Rajashekharan, celebrating with Prasadam from the Temple, the NGT' s decision

 For those who have not read my earlier post, the Kerala government approved 2,000 acres in Aranmula for a totally unnecessary airport. Aranmula , a temple town known for its paddy fields, deep tradition and culture ,its boat race and for the unique Aanmula glass- known as kannadi, a rare handmade metal-alloy mirror, would loose  700 acres of paddy fields, its wetlands , have a negative ecological impact. For the airstrip to be operational the mast of the temple would have to be lowered and the entrance door of the temple changed. So rich and deep is its cultural heritage that UNESCO has declared it a heritage zone.

So when the southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), on May 29th, cancelled the environmental clearance given to the controversial international airport project in Kerala, there was much rejoicing – full credit to the people of Aranmula and the man who led the struggle.

Here is the man and these are his stories

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Up and up and up

In a world that is obsessed with higher and higher growth, expressways and XUVs, where SUVs are becoming passé, where development  is equated only with highways, roads and spiffing airports, where man's insatiable consumption need  has to be met at any cost , where a desire to monetize any and everything , deforestation at the light of speed , where the slow dying of our coral reef does not seem to matter , where unsafe and high pollution levels make our cities unfit for us to breathe in or live in, the dropping dead of bee colonies by the millions, the drying up of our rivers, the destruction of wetlands that give way to sky scrapers, chemical riddled food, where nuclear contamination and radiation uncertainty is accepted, where we are unconcerned  about the acidification of our oceans and parts of our seas being declared sea dead,traffic jams

on the 8,848-metre high Everest caused by people who came from far away countries to “conquer” the peak ,instead leave behind  waste on the pristine white mountain , where dams are not good enough, but mega dams is the answer,  where glaciers melt rapidly, where peak summer temperatures are reached more frequently than ever, where we want growth at any cost,  a significant change happened to our planet.

We crossed 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (C02) in the atmosphere again, earlier this month. To preserve a liveable planet, scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million(ppm) to below 350 ppm.  But instead, we are rapidly and rapaciously adding more C02   into the atmosphere, making a planet that will not be habitable by humans.
It is then that I am reminded about what Gandhi said that distinguished modern civilization from our ancient civilization - the distinguishing characteristic of modern civilization is an indefinite multiplicity of wants ,where ancient civilization were marked by an “imperative restriction upon, and a strict regulating of these wants “. He detested the thought of the distance that man would go to in search of their satisfaction – “If modern civilization stands for all this, and I have understood it to do so, I call it satanic .“   This was in the year 1927.
While I contemplate our present and brood our future, I often ask where is all this leading to, who gains and who benefits  - for it is in this pursuit of what we call a "good life"  that  the falcon cannot hear the falconer.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The barber's shop

It was the divine festival of Mahashivrati - one of the biggest Hindu festivals dedicated to Lord Siva, celebrated in the month of Maagha (or  माघ maagh in Hindi) of the Hindu calender. I was in a small town in the district of Chhatarpur in the state of Madhya Pradesh celebrating the night off- the most auspicious day dedicated to Lord Siva.

The days and nights leading up to the great night were intoxicating - the town was filling up with men, women, children and families,  all gathered by their love and devotion to Lord Siva, there were chants of Om Namah Shivaya, offerings of the sacred "bilva" tree (bael) , it is a day of renunciation and prayer, a night of fasting, with an all night vigil ,worshiping Lord Siva - this is Mahashivratri - the great night of Siva, when Lord Siva appears.

After the fasting, the puja and abulations over,  women wonder around, continuing their worship, and the street markets come alive selling odds and ends from bindis to bangles. 


The men in the town head to Dinesh - who gets ready at the crack of dawn , to set up his shop and start business. I am amazed at this small , nimble but well equipped barber shop. I watch him set up his shop,ask if I can take pictures. He smiles sweetly and nods his head.  I wait to see his first customer .

But before I knew it, Dinesh had his first customer and there were men waiting to be shaved and shined. There was no place for an onlooker like me.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Mad about an an airport

This is how the government of Kerala describes itself-this is from its tourism website.

Kerala, God's Own Country

 "With the Arabian Sea in the west, the Western Ghats towering 500-2700 m in the east and networked by 44 rivers, Kerala enjoys unique geographical features that have made it one of the most sought after tourist destinations in Asia. An equable climate. A long shoreline with serene beaches. Tranquil stretches of emerald backwaters. Lush hill stations and exotic wildlife. Waterfalls. Sprawling plantations and paddy fields. Ayurvedic health holidays. Enchanting art forms. Magical festivals. Historic and cultural monuments. An exotic cuisine... All of which offer you a unique experience. And what's more, each of these charming destinations is only a two hour drive from the other - a singular advantage no other destination offers."

All of this is completely true but go back and read the last sentence.
And what's more, each of these charming destinations is only a two hour drive from the other - a singular advantage no other destination offers.

 If you open any travel guide book or google the famous  Aranmula Boat Race (Kerala’s oldest river festival) – this is what you are likely to find  in the "Getting There" section.

Venue: River Pampa in Aranmula
Location: Aranmula
District: Pathanamthitta
Getting there
By road: Chengannur, about 10 km
By rail: Chengannur, which is about 11 km
By air: Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, about 117 km

Now does Aranmula need another airport ?:

Aranmula is a heritage village - it is famous for its snake boat race, the oldest river boat festival in Kerala.The boat race takes place during the Onam festival, (the harvest festival),near the 1800 year old Parthasarathy Temple in Aranmula. The long traditional Kerala boats are used in the races. Each boat comprises of 150 men of which four are helsmen, 25 men are singers and 125 are the actual oarsmen.These boats are no ordinary boats - they are constructed as per specifications taken from the Sthapathya Veda, an ancient treatise for the building of wooden boats. An auspicious day and time is chosen for the boat to be built.

Aranmula Uthrattathi Boat Race

When complete it resembles a snake, long and slender,that tapers at one end to appear like a snake with its hood raised. Each boat is meticulously crafted and belongs to individual villages located near the river Pamba. Barefoot and bare chested, the oarsmen, dressed in their traditional  mundu  and turnban, sing traditional boat songs, yet  deftly steering their boats. One mistake by a single person can disturb the balance and overturn the boat - symbolic of the need for harmony and unision with nature.

If you read more about Aranmula  you will learn that apart from the snake boat race, that is held on the holy river Pampa ,Aranmula in Pathanamthitta District of Kerala, is noted for its ancient temple dedicated to Lord Krishna (Parthasarathy -Arjuna's Charioteer).In fact,it is said that the idol was brought here in a raft made with aru (six) pieces of mula (bamboo) which gave the town its name, Aranmula.It is one of the most important Krishna temples in Kerala and is associated with the Mahābhārata .The temple is on the left bank of the Pampa River. The temple has four towers over its entrances on its outer wall.The eastern tower is accessed through a flight of 18 steps.The 57 steps from the northern tower leads to river Pampa. The temple is noted for its architecture (vasthu) and fine mural paintings which dates to the 18th century.The culture and heritage of the village is nourished by and around the temple.
Temple at Aranmula

Aranmula is also famous for its craftsmanship - the unique  Aranmula mirror, is made here .Metal mirrors were made and used during the Vedic times and Arnamula is the only place in the world today where metal mirrors are still made.  The craft of making metal mirrors, a combination of copper and white lead ,in right proportions, is now practised, and kept a secret preserve, by a few families of Viswakarmas. The craftmanship is inherited - a family gift that is handed down through generations.Today, a few families remain that have the skill and know the secret of making a metal mirror. 

Aranmula mirror - made from metal
 All these treasures and traditions are made even more special by the green Aranmula Puncha (paddy field) that surrounds Aranmula - a tributary of the holy River Pampa runs through the puncha, and carries the water that is collected in the fields during the monsoon.

It was but natural for UNESCO to declare  Aranmula as a global heritage village - in fact,Aranmula  is the epitome of Kerala heritage. It has the most beautiful and magnificent of Hindu symbols from  temples, to traditional craft and sport, to great Vedic centres of learning and practices traditional agriculture. Above all it is blessed with abundant natural resources .Aranmula stands for all that is good and clean.
But a shadow is creeping over Aranmula - the Kerala Government has plans of building an airport in Aranmula. The Government has earmarked 1500 acres of fertile land  for the airport, of which 80% are paddy fields  - the effete MoEF has given its clearance for constructing the airport - a totally unnecessary airport  that will be built on the canal,which is a tributary of the Pampa leading to destruction of  wetlands, (which will destroy the breeding ground of certain fish species) , sacred groves,acres and acres of fertile land will be lost to a runaway, paddy fields will be killed, hills are to be razed,which will cause devastating damage to the ecosystem and flow of water. Not only will the airport destroy the surrounding natural environment, the airport will required the flag mast of temple to be reduced and the main entrance (Gopuram) to be removed from the existing place.The temple mast of Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple, situated 905 metres from the proposed runway, ia 30.08 metres high but the permissible elevation is 23.7 metres.If sanctioned the Temple mast will be have to be lowered

The Kerala government in cahoots with the private KGS Group, have hatched up plans for this nonsensical airport but far worse is its plan for a modern township,for which thousands of acres of land is being grabbed - this unwanted modern township will  have a soul-less mall, a speciality hospital for the richest, an international school ,shopping complex, luxury hotels and other uninspiring structures. For this undesirable and totally unnecessary airport and  township, thousands of families will have to be evicted, irreparable damage to Aranmula's ecology and the spirit of the temple will be disturbed.

So who wants this ? Who wants to create an airport and a township  ? Whose  idea was this ? Whose greed is this ? Certainly not the local communities, not the local artisans or farmers - no one is Aranmula wants this airport - but the Kerala government is hell bent on going ahead  despite all the protests by the local people who have been protesting for over a year. These protests have been led by Aranmula Heritage Village Action Council patron,Kummanam Rajasekharna,  and has gained full support by all the local people. The protests are growing  and getting louder, the movement getting bigger. There will be more such protests and more such confrontations -  because for the people of Aranmula all that glitters is not gold and their inherited wisdom tells them that their wealth and well being is in the rivers, the streams, the hills, the diety, the paddy fields,the clean air, the unpollutted river and time old traditions.

It is this wisdom and tradition of Aranmula that has to be protected and it is our dharma to protest this airport.

Local people protesting against the planned airport at Aranmula

Now go back and read what Kerala government has to say about getting to Aranmula
Getting there
By road: Chengannur, about 10 km
By rail: Chengannur, which is about 11 km
By air: Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, about 117 km