Respected Sri. E Sreedharan, you are welcome to wash your feet in Bharathapuzha now

This note is written by someone who does not have any personal connection with you. We have spoken twice over phone. I contacted you in December 2017 with a request to speak in a convention organised by Bharathapuzha conservation committee at Pattamby Govt. Samskrutha college to discuss the rejuvenation of Bharathapuzha. During a planning meeting at one of our member, Adv. Udaya Varma’s house, your name was suggested by Sri. Rajan Chungath as someone interested in such initiatives. When we spoke, you clarified that your viewpoints on river conservation and sand mining are different from that of environmentalists. I still requested your presence, as the objective of the convention was to discuss and understand different viewpoints. However, you declined the invitation stating that you were busy with your engagements in Delhi.

Nevertheless, it was very reassuring to know that you were interested in matters related to environment and ecological conservation. Like the destructive war with Kalinga transformed Emperor Asoka to a patron of Buddhism, I felt that you have also transformed after your Konkan and Metro Rail conquests that left trails of forests denuded and mountains permanently scarred. As someone who spent his childhood along the coasts of river Nila, isn’t it possible after all that you will be interested in its protection and rejuvenation. I soon realised that this assumption was misplaced.

Formed in 1990, Bharathapuzha Conservation Committee was the first organisation in our state to take up the protection of rivers. Since then, this organisation has been able to spread awareness and caution the society against unbridled exploitation of natural resources, while acknowledging that all of us are dependent on natural resources for our life and livelihood. Bharathapuzha played a major role in maintaining the water table in that area and its sand beds ensured a layer of filtered and purified river beneath the actual flow. The first casualty of explosive growth in the construction sector was these sand beds. The need to control and cap sand mining and to have river basin authorities were few of the first major demands from the Bharathapuzha Conservation Committee for which it ran major campaigns and agitations. It also engaged legally on such matters and submitted numerous studies and reports to the committees established by the state government. The Bharathapuzha Conservation Committee, along with environmentalists and engineers in Kerala, played a major role in the formulation of the Kerala Rivers Protection and Sand Erosion Regulations, 2001. Late Shri TNN Bhattathiripad, Chief Engineer of the Kerala Water Authority, an engineer like you, was a member of the Bharathapuzha Conservation Committee.

By the time the sand mining regulations came into force, the river surface was eroded and scarred by years of uncontrolled and unscientific sand mining. In many places, the riverbed became forest and in other places deep pits. The water flow stopped completely and became a collection of sewer ponds. The water table on its banks dropped. Small check dams and regulators were built to restore the water level, as if these could replace the role played by the sand beds which were mined to almost three meters. Lack of their maintenance and overall negligence caused more harm than good. The river was not even able to perform its primary function, which is to flow. These man-made obstacles along the river worsened the situation during the recent floods. The steel check dam, which was purported to be an engineering marvel resulted in the river taking a diversion during the floods causing further havoc. Such mishaps once again established that rivers are not an engineering object that can be “repaired”.

While these manmade disasters stood as testimony, the officials at the Irrigation Department came up with a strange discovery that sand was the cause of the flood. A massive and illegitimate sand mining project was envisioned under the umbrage of Disaster Prevention Act in a hurry without any consultation and thought. The government order showed that you were also part of the “expert” team in 2019, that came up with this bizarre problem statement and its equally absurd solution. Was it just coincidental that you had expressed desire to have the sand from Bharathapuzha for the Cochin Metro work?

Respected Metroman, The Konkan rail project was executed along the most ecologically vulnerable western ghats, often ignoring the multiple landslips and accidents. Inspite of these, a larger than life image of yours as an engineering genius has been built and you do not shy away from basking in that aura. (click here https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/on-track-to-disaster-15627  to know how the Konkan Rail Project has endangered the delicate habitat of the Western Ghats). Although the project was carried out with the expertise of large construction companies such as Larsen & Toubro, the bridges and tunnels were much longer than what the railways required. Bridges were 89 kilometres instead of 23 kilometres and tunnels were 88 kilometres instead of 28 kilometres. This caused significant cost over run and damage to an already fragile western ghats eco-system. Even after all these, Konkan railways have seen multiple natural disasters and major accidents after becoming operational. However, these did not dent your image as the Shah Jahan, sorry, keeping in tune with the times let us make it Chathrapathy of big projects and the epitome of professionalism. On hindsight, especially after your entry as the chief ministerial candidate in Kerala elections, it is clear that this inviolable image creation was part of a larger project. Let me add that these facts are being quoted without any intentions to belittle your credibility as a hardworking and brilliant civil engineering project manager and a disciplined officer.

Sir, I saw a statement of yours that indicated your aversion to people who eat meat. Have you wondered what most of the workers who work on your mega construction sites eat? In our place, on the day of concrete it is customary to organise a small feast for all the workers. Normally our staple food Porrotta is served along with some curry, which no one bothers to check if it is beef or vegetable kuruma or just some gravy. I understood from your recent revelation that you were baptised in Sangh ideology while still in your mother’s womb by listening to “Namaste Sada Vatsale Mathrubhume Tvaya Hindubhoome”. You seem to have no qualms or complaints about the killing of Gandhiji but is against killing even chicken for food. I am not sure if you are aware of the food habits of ancient Indians as described in the Vedas. From what I have heard about your reading habits from a friend, I understand that your favourite publication is one from a business house belonging to a “human God” of Kerala. That being the case, you would not have come across an interview with the famous historian, Dr. MGS Narayanan in the Mathrubhumi weekly, where he describes beef as an exotic and special dish of Hindu Brahmins and what happened later in history.

Well, let us move on from your food preferences. I am only happy to see you healthy at the age of eighty-nine. However, what you have done to Bharathapuzha is a greater sin than matricide. I am not an environmental activist. I am like many others who have compromised to lead an ordinary middle-class life and admit to having purchased couple of loads of sand to build a house. However, I have to say at least this much on behalf of my late father who spent 25 years of his life leading agitations, fighting court cases, the Bharathapuzha Conservation Committee and the Kerala River Protection Committee, which paved the way for the 2001 River Protection Act. My response is also in the memory of many selfless activists of the Chalakudy River Protection Committee and especially of Dr. Latha of the River Research Center who lived for the river till her last breath.

You made a star entry as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in the last Kerala assembly elections knowing fully well that BJP’s tally will not go above 3 even by the most optimistic predictions. As expected, you were humbled by the well-meaning voters of Palakkad constituency and Kerala became “Sangh Mukth” to take a leaf out of your leader’s vocabulary and quote.  After your defeat, it was ironical to hear your statement that you will be dedicating the rest of your life for the protection of Bharathapuzha and the cleaning of Dal Lake in Kashmir. Let me remind you that even after knowing that it is an effort in vain, there is a group that focusses its entire energy on convincing the mainstream politicians during every election season about the need for conservation of nature. They kept fighting inspite of knowing that their battle is for a lost cause. I recall my father Indianoor Gopimash, who as a last resort in December 2014, called for a meeting of 21 MLAs from the Bharathapuzha river basin at Pattambi (17 of them attended) and tried to convince them that this river is their responsibility. Holding fast to the memory of my father who passed away five years ago, let me say that your deeds during your official life are no different from that of the sand mafia. It does not come as a surprise to me that you were involved in the ordinance promulgated by the state government two years ago allowing indiscriminate removal of sand from Bharathapuzha using Disaster management act as a cover. I hope you will realize at some time that the river is not an engineering project. Let me also remind you that you are not qualified to give expert opinion on everything that happens in our country, fully acknowledging your expertise as a civil engineering and a project management expert.

Let me conclude by stating that the footprints you leave behind from your long and illustrious career does not in any way evince confidence about you having expertise or concern about matters related to environment, ecology, or river conservation. Since you have finally hanged your boots, let me welcome you to cleanse your feet in Bharathapuzha that is soiled through years of unbridled exploitation. I recommend the area near the Chenganamkunnu Regulator at Desamangalam. Please do bring along your newfound RSS and BJP friends, who made you utter ridiculous statements and cut a sorry figure at an age when you should be resting under the glory of an illustrious engineering career. Let them not forget to take their kamandalus too…

Niranjan TG is a well known Malayalam poet and Marine Chief Engineer.

Translated from Malayalam to English by KC Manoj, who is working as an engineer


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