Kallen Pokkudan, an organic environmentalist who recognized the importance of mangroves well before anybody believed him, died of age-related ailments in a private hospital in Kannur on Sunday. He was 85.
Born into the Scheduled Pulaya community in Ezhom village near Pazhayangadi of Kannur district in 1930, Pokkudan was victimized because of the community he belonged to. Pulayas use mangroves as a source of food, fuel and medicine.
A staunch communist, he was part of many movements in Kannur, including farmers’ movements and has gone to jail several times. However, he began to conserve mangroves in 1989 after quitting his political life.
He planted 300 saplings initially and protected them from those who plucked them, and faced police cases and attacks for attempting to grow mangroves.
Pokkudan once said of that time: “Everyone thought I was insane, some people threatened me thinking that I was trying to grab government lands. But though I did not have any scientific knowledge, somehow I believed it will prevent sea erosion. ”
In five years, he had planted 1,00,000 saplings and built a social movement around it. In recognition of his efforts, the government launched various projects to conserve mangroves in 1994.
Today, large tracts of marsh land in Kannur district is covered by thick mangrove forests which are home to several animals such as turtles which are protected by the Indian Wild Life Act. His work has earned him the nickname “Kandal Pokkudan” (Kandal means mangrove).
Despite having no formal education, Pokkudan has given lectures in more than 500 educational institutions and has written several books including his autobiography Kandal Kadukalkkidayil Ente Jeevitham (My Life in Mangrove Forests), edited by Malayalam writer Thaha Madayi and published by Pokkudan’s son Sreejith.
Pokkudan has been the recipient of many awards including the Vanamithra and Haritha Vyakthi awards given away by the Kerala Government. He had also earned special mention from the UNESCO for his work.