Unlike other metros in India, Kochi has almost six acres of thick forest right in the heart of the city. Just behind the Kerala High Court in Ernakulam exists Mangalavanam, once the hub of a variety of native and migratory bird species.
Enmeshed by straggling multi-storeyed flats and mushrooming business centres, this bird sanctuary now seems almost bereft of its feathered mates, save for a few bats which just add to its abandoned decay.
Its rich mangroves are literally being sucked dry by the burgeoning city-waste that clogs its water-bodies. The green lungs of Kochi are being choked at an alarmingly fast pace and are now on the verge of a shutdown.
â€śJust a decade ago, you could see rare varieties of migratory birds here. Now, you can hardly sight any. This water source located in thick forest is almost cut off by the massive construction that has grown around it. Earlier, we had birds arrive even during the off-season. But how do you expect birds to fly in, when the approach route itself has disappeared?â€ť asks Manu Sathyan, who was till recently in charge of Mangalavanam, before getting transferred.
â€śThe fish and crabs inside the lake are what constitute the main source of food for these migratory birds. But ever since waste-water is being dumped into the forest, the entire lake has been polluted. All the fishes seem to have died,â€ť he says.
Environmental activist and advocate Charles George believes that it is due to the rise of encroachments in Kochi that the flow of water into the lake inside Mangalavanam has considerably reduced and subsequently polluted its marine life.
â€śIf you notice, there is no flow of water in the lake inside the forest. Stagnant water â€“by default- gets polluted, thereby proving extremely harmful to the marine life inside the water,â€ť he points out.
â€śEven the marshy area has drastically decreased in size. I remember a High Court Justice once said that the Kerala High Court has no right to comment on environmental issues, as the High Court building is located at a place
that could potentially harm an entire forest,â€ť he recalls.
Shyju -the forest guard at Mangalavanam shares his concern over a brand new 13-storeyed apartment building being now built near the forest.
â€śThe forest is completely engulfed by a concrete jungle that has grown up around it. The water in the lake is pollutedâ€¦.it seems just a matter of time before its identity as a bird sanctuary is erased forever,â€ť he sighs.
Advocate Charles holds the Kochi Corporation and the authorities concerned guilty for the irresponsible handling of such a sensitive environmental issue.
â€śAll the buildings that have come up in the area have been built after being accorded the requisite permission by the civic authorities. The people seem to be absolutely blind to the awesomeness of having access to a thick forest right in the middle of the city. This is the height of irresponsibility,â€ť he avers.
He goes on to remind us that the entire constructional activities around Mangalavanam have been carried out in an eco-sensitive zone: â€śThey have not even abided by the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) rules.â€ť
In a study conducted by the State Forest Department, it was revealed that Mangalavanam was the roosting-site for 103 species of birds, 1 7 species of butterflies, 51 species of spiders and 3 species of mammals.
â€śRecent studies however show a drastic reduction in the number of living species found here. Even toxic waste from oil refineries too end up here. Do we even realise just how harmful all this could prove to our future generations?â€ť wonders Shyju.
All photos : Rajesh Kumar