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Memories of a protest

SILENT VALLEY WHISPERS OF REASON·Kerala Forest Department·St Joseph’s Printing Press·pp 421·Price not mentioned

Published: Tuesday 30 November 1999

-- this is the day and ageof environmental movements, therefore, it is not surprising to come across a book on the Silent Valley. This name is synonymous with the people's fight for conservation. A bold and strident campaign which lead ultimately to the setting up of the Silent Valley National Park.

The book is an anthology comprising 38 articles onvarious aspects of Silent Valley. Everything is dealt with from history to bio-diversity to the evolution of the management strategy of the park. As a result in some places the book tends to be repetitive.

Situated in Kerala's Palakkad district on the South Western ghats, Silent Valley caught the attention of the media when environmentalists realised thata plan was afoot to subme-rge the area along withits flora and fauna in areservoir which was to be constructed for a hydroelectric project.

In the '80s, environment was not a subject of much concern. Industry was yet to make an impact on the quality of our air and water and no one had visualised that urban India would become so highly polluted that environmental degradation would become a household concern.

Among the media, it was, therefore, left to The Hindu to raise this concern. But its relentless campaign against the Silent Valley Hydel project was not something that just took place on its own. It was a deliberate move by N Ram, at present the editor of Hindu 's sister publications like Business Line and Frontline .

The Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad ( kssp ) also played a vital role by providing documentation to the paper on the importance of rain forest acquisition within the Silent Valley. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the authors are grateful to the kssp for helping them compile the book.

The book is important because environment success stories are few and far between. The Silent Valley saga is one of those rare success stories. A story of the success of a sustained battle on behalf of the environment which captured the imagination of the public and forced official rethinking.

If the arguments and decisions of some of the environmentalists seem naive in retrospect so was the press, at times. But both the press and the environmentalists can be proud of their historic role in saving a small and priceless chunk of rain forest from destruction. Therefore, this book captures an important case study for the environmentalist, the journalist and today's citizen.

But there are quite a few loopholes. For one, the book does not make easy reading even though an attempt has been made to lighten the text by introducing a host of colour photographs. Yet another jarring aspect is the cover design of the book which goes back to the time of the Silent Valley struggle and much has changed in terms of design and presentation since then.

Among those who have been accorded space in the book are M S Swamynathan and M K Prasad of the Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad, and P Pushangadhan and C Satishkumar of the Tropic Botanic Garden and Research Institute.

To a certain extent, the book suffers in terms of presentation. However, this should not discourage one from reading it.

What must be kept in mind is that the 'Save Silent Valley' campaign was neither a well-chalked-out campaign nor did it have a proper schedule or programme. Neither can it be termed a people's movement. Sowhat was the main reason behind its success? Obviously, the high literacy rate in Kerala. Therefore, read the book we must toget an idea of how andwhy both literacy andcampaign must go hand in hand in order to safeguard the environment.

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