Noted environmental activist Latha Anantha passed away on Thursday, after battling cancer for the last three years.
51-year-old Latha, a native of Thrissur in Kerala, breathed her last at her house in Ollur.
An agricultural scientist, Latha took up the causes of rivers and was actively involved in several programmes. Her work against the Athirappilly dam project was what cemented her identity as an environment activist. She was the director of the Chalakudy River Research Centre and a member of the Chalakudy Puzha Samrakshan Samithi.
Born as the daughter of Varadabhai and Ananada Kammath, Latha graduated in Agriculture Science. â€śShe ended her career as an Agriculture Officer after attending a Nature Camp at Silent Valley back in 1989. Latha got married to another environmentalist- river lover Unnikrishnan in 1995. Latha played a major role in making the referendum against the environmental clearance given to the Athirappilly project a big success,â€ť wrote Purushan Eloor, an environmentalist in a tribute for a Malayalam news portal Nava Malayali.
Down To Earth reports that Latha was also a member of the Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India.
Condolences poured in following her demise from activists and public figures across the country.
Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan said in a statement that she was shaken to hear Latha's untimely demise.
"I am sad and shaken to hear about the untimely demise of Dear Latha of Chalakudi. She fought for all rivers and nature with scientific and emotional involvement, till her last breath. A woman of strength, wisdom and vision... was needed the most today, when fake campaigns for rivers with corporate support are all in air. Let the Kerala Government cancel and stop encroachment upon Chalakudi and all rivers as a tribute to Latha and let our strength and commitment grow with her spirit within us," Medha said.
Thrithala MLA VT Balram called Latha â€śa companion of the riversâ€ť, and said that he was shocked to hear the news of her death.
"Today, the Chalakkudy river will flow as a river of tears," he wrote in Malayalam.
In its statement, International Rivers praised Latha as a person who lived and died for the cause of rivers.
"Latha may have done more than almost anyone else to elevate the idea of restoring a riverâ€™s natural pulse, or environmental flows. She fought to keep Keralaâ€™s Chalakudi River free from the proposed Athirapally dam â€“ and won â€“ multiple times. She consulted at high levels, she trained activists, and she advocated for sane policies for rivers, people and wildlife," reads the statement.
Leo Saldanha, an environment activist based in Bengaluru, recalled a different side of Latha, remembering the laughter she had shared with those around her, even as she spearheaded the fight to save rivers.
Biju Kumar, a professor at the University of Kerala, said that Latha's demise was not just a loss for those who loved rivers, but for all people who loved nature.
"She resigned government job and fought for river protection. Though troubled by ailments, she was active till the period of her life. She was instrumental in popularising the term environmental flow among common man and policy makers. You flow like a river, my friend," he wrote.
Journalist VP Rajeena took to Facebook to say, "Latha bore the soul of rivers on her chest. She came to the camp conducted by Keraleeyam organisation at the bank of Chalakkud river recently. She was on the path to fight even though she was not able to travel or couldnâ€™t sit for long time. She spoke a lot at the camp. Each and everyone at the camp listened carefully to her. It was like she was in a hurry to share her experiences, her knowledge without losing the vigour."