200-year-old sacred groves face the axe

Shantivanam, a group of sacred groves on the NH17 near Paravur, is under threat as the KSEB has proposed to draw a 110kV electricity line through the campus. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat

Shantivanam, a group of sacred groves on the NH17 near Paravur, is under threat as the KSEB has proposed to draw a 110kV electricity line through the campus. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

A group of sacred groves at Vazhikkulangara near Paravur has been home to several species of reptiles, birds and animals for several years. Now, the green campus named ‘Shantivanam’ is under threat. The Kerala State Electricity Board’s proposed Cherai-Mannam 110kV line will pass right through the groves, believed to be at least 200 years old.

“No one from the KSEB approached us. We didn’t know about this until they came and marked out our property,” says Meena Menon, on whose property the groves stand.

KSEB officials have pitched markers on various parts of the groves to denote where a 25 m high tower will come up. KSEB officials insist that the deities of the three groves in the one acre plot will not be touched. The three groves are dedicated to the Naga yakshi, Nagarajan, Kala bhairvan and other deities. They are spread out on three corners of the plot. A KSEB official said they would try and avoid disturbing the idols as much as they could. “If not, the KSEB will handle the expenses for shifting the idols to another spot,” said a KSEB official.

Most of the trees on the plot, however, will have to be cut away. There are ancient trees and medicinal herbs such as the Ashoka tree, Milkwood pine, mango, turmeric and other rare trees that Meena does not know the names of. “We’re not sure exactly how old the groves are. But my grandmother used to say that these trees and the groves were exactly the same even when she was a child,” says Meena.

The trees and the groves are home to several species of snake. There is even a friendly snake that occasionally visits Meena and her nine-year-old daughter at their house. Meena has spotted several other snakes within the groves and regular poojas are held at all three groves. The three ponds on the campus also bring migratory birds during the summer, and have the Greater Coucal, sparrows, civets, squirrels, water hens, the Indian bullfrog and various other birds, animals and insects as full-time residents.

The proposed KSEB tower will destabilise the biodiversity that finds a home at this campus beside the NH 17. “All these animals and birds are residents of this plot. It’s just that they cannot sign any petition,” says Meena.

The owners of the property have been offered monetary compensation for their land. Meena, however, is not interested. “The value of the groves is more than just that of the land. These groves are over 200 years old and are very valuable to the ecosystem. They cannot be replaced by money,” she says.

The groves were opened as a biodiversity campus by Meena’s father, an environment enthusiast. Today, the campus is frequented by nature photographers, environmentalists and students. School students visit the campus on Sundays to learn about biodiversity and to experience the greenery, a rare sight today. A team from the National Museum of Natural History too visited Shantivanam to study sacred groves and their role in conserving biodiversity. The delicate ecosystem of Shantivanam, however, is now fighting for survival.

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 1:14:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/200yearold-sacred-groves-face-the-axe/article5086537.ece

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