It’s cold and rainy in Kodai, with a week of storms—it has been for a while, and will be for a while. Perfect reading weather!
In this issue, we reflect on ‘The Strangers in Our Midst’ (the title of our lead story), looking back at a year that has amplified the ‘urbanization’ of wildlife. Through this reported piece, Lathika George focusses on our most ubiquitous new resident: the gaur (also referred to as the ‘bison’); in ‘Kodai’s Kaatu Maadu Crisis’, the world’s leading gaur expert, Farshid Ahreshtani, offers context. And an interview with Nik Sekhran, the Chief Conservation Officer of the World Wildlife Fund, takes us from Prakasapuram to Washington DC: this leading conservationist happens to have grown up in Kodai.
It’s always necessary to celebrate our biodiversity—and it’s also necessary to acknowledge that much is wrong and needs our urgent attention. This is only if we act fast. We dedicate this issue to wildlife, and also to attempts to conserve and protect it—if animals keep losing their natural habitat, Kodai and the Palani Hills—and every part of the natural world connected to us—are facing a potential crisis. In this issue, conservationist Bittu Sahgal sounds an alarm we have all heard, yet again, in a wide-ranging interview (coming soon).
We also give you birds, snakes, the town’s natural history museum, and how to farm around wild animals. And, we travel back in time to the post-war world of a newly cosmopolitan Kodai in The High Clerc Cookery Book; revisit Nikhil Whitaker’s pioneering discovery of a snake when he was a child and the Kodai Music Festivals of the 80s through the noughties; travel to Kumaon with writer and festival director Namita Gokhale and the DIY workshops of Kodai; learn about Kodai’s very own Shenbaghanur Museum of Natural History and The Potter’s Shed; walk with shop-owner and photographer Farooq around the lake—and much more.
Readers wrote in about Issue 1, expressing their concern and frustration regarding our garbage problem. The Kodai Chronicle Trust has created a forum for better waste management, uniting residents old and new, of all ages. As a result of this ongoing conversation, several citizens, including Jhatkaa’s Avijit Michael and Mark Antrobus and G Baladhandayutham of the PHCC (Palani Hills Conservation Council), met Kodaikanal’s commissioner, Mr D Narayanan. Jhatkaa’s update to the 4500 plus who signed their petition (regarding garbage overflowing into the Tiger Shola Forest) signals proactive action during the months to come, saying:
- The authorities will set up centralised composting facilities in the town
- They will also set up small sheds for processing dry waste in each community.
- Working with the forest department, they are going to take necessary steps to clean the waste flowing into the forest.
In other news, the Government Hospital has been upgraded by The Kodaikanal Lovers Group Trust, as of today. The town continues to deal with the arrival of tourists and standard Covid-related procedures.
This month, coverage of allegedly unauthorized felling of trees at Unilever’s factory site in Kodai in publications like The Hindu and The Indian Express brought a lingering issue to the fore. New residents may not be aware of the time when news of mercury leaks in Kodai broke and the factory closed in 2001, as well as subsequent attempts to clean up, monitor, and assess the effects of mercury in the environment, as well as the halting of clean-ups. Older residents may need to be reminded of this unresolved environmental issue: one that made headlines around the world. This latest move ‘has exposed the toxic soil at the plant site to erosion by rainwater and wind’, says the Chennai Solidarity Group, which warns that 100 kilos of soil-bound mercury may be making its way into the Kodai Wildlife Sanctuary and Vaigai catchment area (they wrote to the Chief Minister this week). HUL insists that only the minimum number of trees were cut, claiming that this response was another measure to delay remediation and telling The Hindu that it had planted 500 trees at Mother Teresa University. Albert Jayakumar, who represents the St Mary’s Road Residents Association, whose members live next door to the site, shared this letter with us, in a continued campaign for remediation.
This long-standing stalemate reminds us of two important facts: we lack adequate studies that will tell us what is actually happening in Kodai, and, this town doesn’t have a clean site, 20 years later. (We report on this in Issue 3.)
Meanwhile, do let us know what you think of this issue: write in with suggestions, submissions, and comments (firstname.lastname@example.org). We have had a lot of questions, suggestions, and advice come our way—thank you!
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Keep reading, keep writing in!
Editor-in-chief, The Kodai Chronicle