People Piyush Manush will take on anyone who defiles the environment. He tells Akila Kannadasan that he feels fulfilled only when he speaks for the forests, wetlands and wildlife
An enthusiastic bunch of people and plenty of hard work — this is what it took to create a bird sanctuary on a lakebed in Tamil Nadu. At 6 a.m. every Sunday, for seven consecutive months, about 150 men, women, and children gathered at the polluted Mookaneri Lake in Salem. Excavators were employed to dig out soil from the 58-acre lake and heap it to form islands on the surface.
The people planted saplings that included naaval, neem, aala maram, arasa maram and vetiver on the islands. Soon, the skies opened up and the plants thrived. Curious birds flew in to check out the new green spot. Mookaneri came alive.
Today, the Mookaneri is an example that wetland conservationists across Tamil Nadu want to emulate. The mammoth task was possible because of an ordinary young man who sells bamboo furniture for a living — Piyush Manush.
Piyush has fought innumerable battles for the people of Salem and its natural resources. The 36-year-old was here in the city to talk on wetlands conservation on World Wetlands Day celebrations organised by the Eco Club of PSG College of Arts and Science.
“Some of the trees in Mookaneri are over 20 feet tall,” says Piyush. The trees attract so many birds that some trunks are completely white with bird-droppings! A Nature lover spotted 42 bird species there in two hours, he adds. Work for the ‘Mookaneri Eco-restoration Project’ was started in May 2010. “We would work till 11 a.m. every week and disperse after a round of kamban koozh ,” he says. Piyush also organised fruit festivals by the lake where people could eat fruits and plant the seeds in the islands.
Water bodies are a city’s lifeline, says Piyush. “But many of them are vanishing; with technology, blink your eye and a hill is gone,” he says.
In 2010, Piyush and a few like-minded people formed the Salem Citizen’s Forum, a collective of urban citizens that engaged in activities for the welfare of the people. The Forum adopted the Ismail Khan Eri and cleared its inlet channel. “The tank saw water after seven years,” says Piyush. They initiated campaigns to curb reckless driving on the roads of Salem, organised rallies against corruption, held clean-up drives, took up the construction of a bridge that was left incomplete by the corporation… “We basically instigate the local judiciary,” explains Piyush.
Piyush runs a successful bamboo furniture business — he grows the bamboo himself in a forest he created on a hilly terrain in Dharmapuri. Called the ‘Coop Forest’, it is Piyush’s way of giving back to Nature by being part of the creation process. Can man create a forest and make a living out of it? The Coop Forest teaches us how. The 150-acre land is owned by a cooperative of people.
The forest, which was once a dry, lifeless terrain, is now also home to thousands of trees such as neem, rosewood, mango, custard apple, jack fruit, chiku, silk cotton and pungam.
‘Green’ ventures are Coop’s USP. Anybody can visit it, stay in the pristine environment and learn about bee-keeping, mushroom cultivation, bio-gas generation…there are 30 such ventures to choose from. Writer M. Harikrishnan’s Kalari Trust is setting up a school for koothu in its premises. Piyush also plans to organise educational camps for school children there.
For a youngster who started off by planting trees in the hills surrounding his hometown, Piyush has come a long way. The vociferous activist has courted arrest, faced threats and taken on corporate giants in his bid to defend the environment…“I do this because I want to satisfy the soul inside me. I am a selfish person.”