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Environment And Society – The India Challenge

A review of Environment & Society – The India Challenge, a festschrift for Prof. M.K Prasad.

Prof. Prasad is one of India’s most respected environmentalists and his legacy – which involves humane and nature-friendly planning – must be our beacon in life.  His role in the 1970s, as the leading voice of the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), helped mobilise national and international attention on the imperative of stopping a hydroelectric project from destroying Kerala’s pristine and very threatened Silent Valley forest. For over four decades, as Professor of Botany, Principal of Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam, and Pro-Vice Chancellor, Calicut University, he has continued to light the lives of thousands of students and guide them toward a sustainable, green path.

At 80 years, Prof. Prasad’s enthusiasm and commitment to protect India’s green heritage is stronger today than ever before. Fittingly, environmental scientists and academicians who have known or worked with Prof. Prasad came together to publish a volume of papers as a festschrift (a book to honour a highly respected person) on the myriad challenges that our country faces. The book is also a tribute to this towering personality, who will be honoured at the release ceremony on World Environment Day, June 5, 2013.

The contributors include a virtual who’s who of the Indian environmental movement. M.S. Swaminathan writes about the road to sustainable development, food security and alternative energy (including nuclear technology!). Sunita Narain examines the environmental movement, and comments on our current downhill path: “When urban and middle-class India (as across the world) faces environmental threat it does not stop to ask: In whose backyard then? The fact is garbage is produced because of our consumption. The fact is that the richer we get, the more we need to throw and waste. The more we pollute.

Kartikeya V. Sarabhai has written an evocative piece on people’s participation in Silent Valley. While Madhav Gadgil elaborates on ecology and democracy in India, Rajan Gurukkal insists we need a convergence of Marxism and Gandhian values as a strategy for a sustainable society. Several other personalities write on forests, climate, renewable energy, biodiversity and conservation.

Almost every subject that will shape tomorrow’s India makes it to this compilation – V.S. Vijayan and Lalitha Vijayan write about the conservation of wetlands and river systems while Latha Anantha talks about river basins: “The growing umbilical disconnects between the human race and river ecosystems seem to be the most important reason for the worsening condition of rivers worldwide”.

P. Leelakrishnan discusses the controversial interlinking of rivers. Prof. C.T. Arvindakumar warns us of a new class of pollutants, while Indira Balachandran worries about the impact of our dwindling medicinal plant resources. V.K. Prasad, meanwhile presents a paper on the history of botanical illustrations in India and the role of Indian artists while B. Venugopal shares the work of the National Museum of Natural History.

Also included in these 35 contributions are articles on ecologically sensitive areas, aquatic conservation and an outline of the conservation challenges of the Asian elephant. Dr. A.J.T. Johnsingh shares enjoyable anecdotes on the dhole and Mohan Alembath provides insights on the Nilgiri tahr. Other fauna pieces include one by R. Suganthasakthivel and K.K. Ramachandran on the lion-tailed macaque.

Some of the most thought-provoking articles on Kerala’s environmental problems are by S. Sankar  and M. Pradeep Kumar (on the proposed Thekkady-Chemmanampathy road in the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve); N. Anil Kumar, Girigan Gopi and Parameswaran Prajeesh celebrate India’s crop diversity and the traditions of the Kurichya tribals of Wyanad , while K.P. Kannan raises fears of the troubling changes taking place in Kerala.

Prof. Prasad’s most well-known battle was the one to protect Silent Valley and this volume does justice to that struggle with contributors Bittu Sahgal, Romulus Whitaker and Dilnavaz Variya recalling past battles in three separate articles. Whitaker rightly says: “Right now India needs a whole team of M.K. Prasads to fight the environmental battles that you hear of literally every day!” Walter Reid, K.S. Manilal and U.K. Gopalan also share interesting glimpses into ‘MKP’s’ life and work.

The book’s editor Anand Parthasarathy, award-winning technical journalist, writes on the life and work of Prof. M.K. Prasad. Recounting how he once laid a wreath on a tree stump after it was hacked overnight, he says, “The MKP saga had moments of defeat like this but so many of us – and  the heartfelt sentiment which permeates the contributions to this book is a living breathing testament to that – are better, more humane, caring citizens because MKP showed us the way.

Editor: Anand Parthasarathy

Published by: IndiaTech Books & Media

Softcover, 248 pages; Price: Rs. 1,200

Review by Lakshmy Raman, Executive Editor, Sanctuary Asia.

First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Volume XXXIII, No. 3, June 2013.


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