MK Prasad, voice of the Silent Valley

In the demise of MK Prasad, Kerala has lost a dean of environmental activism, at a time when a major environmental crisis looms on the state’s horizon – the impact of the 292 km long ’embankment’ and eight meter high proposed for the K-Rail semi high-speed rail line. He was one of the main signatories of the open letter written to the Chief Minister of Kerala by 37 progressive intellectuals on January 22, calling for the project to be halted.

Prasad had been a leading member of the Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP; established in 1962) since 1967. An international biographer of the KSSP has described it as “a grassroots movement emphasizing the role of science as a vehicle for self-sufficiency and popular participation in development, libertarian educational approaches, dignity of all people, appropriate technology and a bottom-up approach to development…they see science as a vehicle for transformative education”. KSSP members consist of experts in multiple fields and progressive activists. A professor of botany, Prasad was the leading biologist among them.

Its direct involvement in environmental protection in Kerala dates back to 1970 when the KSSP started a movement to highlight air and water pollution in the industrial area of ​​Eloor near Kochi. Many public and private sector factories in the region were polluting the Periyar River and the air in the region. The first initiative to stop this pollution was taken by the Kochi Science Society. The movement reached the KSSP via Prasad – perhaps Parishad’s first direct involvement in an environmental protection movement. In the mid-1960s, NV Krishna Warrier, one of the founding leaders of the KSSP, became involved in activism as an individual. But following the Kochi movement, KSSP became directly involved in environmental activism.

In 1977, the government of Kerala went ahead with a plan to build a hydroelectric project on the Kunthi River which runs through Silent Valley, the evergreen rainforest in the Palakkad region. The dam had to stand inside the forest itself. KSSP was initially reluctant to get involved in any resistance against the project because it believed in the need to generate electricity for people’s well-being. At the request of Satish Chandran Nair, an ecologist who had traveled extensively inside Silent Valley to study its ecological importance, Prasad visited the rainforest in 1977. He was convinced of the importance of preserving this rich treasure. of biodiversity. The submergence of 830 hectares of forest land, from which the streams and tributaries of the Kunthi originate, would have destroyed the riparian ecosystem. After this visit in 1977, Prasad began publishing his findings in local scientific and literary journals.

At the camp of KSSP members held in Kalady in 1977, a resolution drafted by Prasad asking the organization to oppose the project was presented. Prasad was not present at the meeting. Camp attendees did not approve of the resolution but decided to investigate the matter. A committee consisting of Prasad, MP Parameswaran and KP Kannan among others has been formed. Their 1978 report, “The Silent Valley Hydroelectric Project: A Techno-Economic and Socio-Political Assessment” persuaded the KSSP to join the resistance movement to save the Silent Valley. So, in a sense, Prasad’s first visit to the Silent Valley was a turning point in the history of KSSP.

KSSP is a left-wing organization. At a time when left-wing parties strongly supported the project, it was difficult to oppose it for ecological reasons. In the 1998 EPW, historian Ramachandra Guha described the KSSP as an “ecological Marxist” organization.

The late poet Sugathakumari wrote that she was drawn to the Silent Valley movement after reading an article by Prasad in Mathrubhumi. She was among the poets and writers who, under the leadership of NV Krishna Warrier, formed an organization in 1980 to save the Silent Valley. It was a unique movement in the history of the world, where writers came together to resist the destruction of the environment. The only other similar example that I know of is that of the “Group of 100” founded by the famous Mexican writer Homero Aridjis in 1985.
Prasad has published a few volumes aimed at educating civil society in Kerala on environmental issues. Among them is his 2012 treatise, “Climate Change and Ecosystems.” At the height of heated debate over the Madhav Gadgil Committee’s report on the Western Ghats in 2013, he teamed up with environmental lawyer Harish Vasudevan to publish another volume, “Western Ghats: Gadgil-Kasturirangan Reports and Reality.”

Activism and writing are not always the same. The activist must be among the people, organizing and motivating them while collecting the available scientific facts. A writer must confine himself to his study for long hours to research, read, think and write. KSSP founders and readers like PT Bhaskara Panicker, Krishna Warrier, MP Parameswaran, Prasad and many others have combined these skills. Their scientific rigor and wisdom are the foundations on which KSSP is built.

The excavation of hundreds of millions of tons of soil, sand, gravel and granite for the K-Rail project will jeopardize the biodiversity of the state, which has faced climate-related disasters since 2017. The presence de Prasad would have been critical at this point. He will be greatly missed by those in civil society who continue to fight for an environmentally sustainable, socially just and truly democratic Kerala.

Madhusoodanan, a literary critic, author of an award-winning Sahitya Akademi on the comprehensive environmental history of Kerala, and a former IAS officer

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