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A man-made forest in the heart of Aluva, Cochin is the effort of a group of environmentalists headed by Professor S. Sitaraman.

‘Harithavanam’ on the banks of the Mangalapuzha near Sivarathri Manappuram, Aluva was born when a sensitive bureaucrat with a love for plants and a group of nature lovers with a drive to green the city got together. Twenty years after it was planted ‘Harithavanam’, a unique experiment, has expanded in area and supports a thriving eco-system. This green lung is the fruit of dedicated work done by Professor S. Sitaraman and his team. But the creation of the forest was not easy. It was a constant struggle against a capricious river and negotiations with a judgemental public reports The Hindu.

Sitaraman retired as professor of Chemistry from Sree Sankara College,  Kalady, after 32 years of service. Recalling the beginning of the project he says, “In 1987, then District Collector the late K.R. Rajan, was interested in environmental projects for the city. This project was initiated by him under a scheme called Integrated Development of Kochi. The initial funding, a small amount, was sanctioned by the Science and Technology Department. This was an experimental project to protect riverbanks by planting trees. I had suggested afforestation on an experimental basis,” recounts Sitaraman for whom ‘tree is life’.

In the first year (1992) Sitaraman, assisted by his former colleague Prof. GopalakrishnaMoorthy, planted 850 trees in 20,000 sq.km of land.

The two faced many challenges, social and technical. The presence of clayey soil did not permit the planting of trees with deep roots. That year the flood waters destroyed 50 per cent of the young trees forcing the two environmentalists to rethink their strategy. They opted for species that could survive the deluge and came up with 63 varieties of hardy plants. “Clayey soil is high on nutrients and helped in the growth of the plants, once they stabilised,” says Sitaraman.

In the second round of planting they doubled the number of trees raising it to 1,600 plants. Importance was given to plants such as poomaruthu, erul and the like, which have hard trunks. It was planted along with a mix of yellow and green bamboos. The two ecologists noticed that as the plants began to stabilise there was collection of silt and the soil was enriched. Simultaneously, they had to tackle social hurdles like the rush of devotees to the nearby temple which almost always brought many into the cordoned off precincts of the young forest.

After the forest began to grow in form and shape it began getting noticed. Birds began roosting and suddenly a new habitat supported by the trees came about. “It was the birth of life itself,” says Sitaraman who takes a daily morning walk in the forest.

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