Bittu Sahgal, the founding editor of Sanctuary Asia, speaks with anguish about the wanton destruction of wetlands
“Silent Valley is a temple,” says Bittu Sahgal, the founding editor of Sanctuary Asia, India’s premier wildlife and ecology magazine. “Not only because of the rich bio-diversity of plants, animals, birds and butterflies, and a rich ecosystem, but also because it’s a storehouse of carbon.”
Bittu recalls the hydroelectric project that was proposed in the 1970s. It threatened the silent valley’s diversity of wildlife and led to an environmentalist social movement called Save Silent Valley. The project was shelved. “Economists have short-term values and fail to see the conservationists’ points of view. They look for facts and figures and keep destroying the wetlands. For example, a single tree in the Silent Valley does not add to the GDP, but if a poacher cuts it down and sells it the GDP will rise. They want to build the national highways and drown valleys for electricity from Silent Valley.Today, the truth is out there for everyone to see,” he says.
The environmental activist and writer was in Coimbatore recently and he visited the Click Your Pic Wildlife Photography exhibition organised by Environment Conservation Group (ECG). He says bio-diversity and climate change are two sides of the same coin that need immediate attention. Be it the Silent Valley or the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve, or the Mudumalai, the wetlands are reserves of carbon and they have to be protected, he emphasises.
He calls wetlands, the creator of Garden of Eden. “It retains as much carbon in the soil as there is in the atmosphere. By destroying the wetlands, you are eating into the space of an egret (he points to a photograph on display), a number of other wetland birds, the ecosystem of frogs… it destroys the bio-diversity and every single life on the ecosystem. It’s suicidal,” he warns.
On the pollution of water bodies, he regrets that “Homo sapiens are the only living beings who have the ambition and technology to destroy. That’s how smart we are.” He mentions the Cauvery and how it serves as a holding ground for carbon along its course. “These wetlands support the food chain and when the fish production comes down, the food chain comes crashing down. The mother of the Cauvery is the forest from where it originates. Save the mother and make the future a much better place for the younger generation,” he says.
He says writing about conservation works as an agent of change. “A picture when supported with moving words says a lot.”