They protect our forests and fight to ensure you and I have clean water. Environment warriors are some of the most unsung heroes of our times. It’s time we recognised at least some of them.
VS Veerapathiran, Kodaikanal
Known more commonly as Veera in his circles, this environmentalist is known for his relentless campaign against Hindustan Unilever in the hill station, for the mercury contamination that they were responsible for. He fought to ensure that HUL compensated 600 workers affected by mercury waste. He also stood up against the government's Lower Gundar Water Project that was meant to meet the water needs of Kodaikanal hills. This was because the site identified for the project was deep inside a forest and would have damaged an ecosystem that was home to a plethora of flora and fauna.
S Bharathidasan, Chennai
The vulture, the bird of prey has a keen set of eyes watching over it in the Mudumalai-Sathyamangalam area. These watchful eyes belong to Bharathidasan, who along with the Forest department has been keeping count of the birds. He has been working towards the prevention of consumption of diclofenac by animals. The chemical has proved to be fatal for vultures that consume the animals.
He received the Biodiversity Hot Spot Hero award from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) during the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) World Conservation Congress.
Muthamma, Coimbatore district
This frail tribal woman from the Irula community has been waging a courageous war for her tribe's right to forest land for several years now. She has taken on the powerful Isha foundation in Coimbatore. According to the activist, the organisation led by Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev took away land that rightfully belonged to about 200 tribal families. Muthamma is unable to live with her family, that works at the ashram, and is currently working to spread word on her allegation that forest land has been illegally snatched by the foundation.
M Yoganathan, Coimbatore
This bus conductor who works with the Tamil Nadu State Road Transport Corporation (TNSTC) has single-handedly planted 1 lakh trees in the last 28 years throughout Tamil Nadu. It was after he witnessed trees being smuggled that he first decided to take the onus of conserving the environment upon himself. He travels from Gandhipuram to Marudhamalai every day and over 40% of his monthly income goes into buying saplings. He also educates children and youngsters in local schools and colleges about the environment. Till date, he has planted 1,20,000 saplings, throughout Tamil Nadu.
Piyush Manush, Salem
Piyush Sethia or 'Salem's green warrior' as he has been titled is an environmentalist who has created a Co-op forest which expands over 150 acres in his district. He started off by buying 1.5 acres of land on which he started planting trees in 2009. He then concvinced his friends to buy patches of this land and steadily created a cooperative. He has also actively participated in water conservation projects and has also stood up against the government when development projects affected the common man adversely. It was during one such protest that he was arrested in 2017. Piyush who is the convenor of the Salem Citizens forum however, has not been deterred and continues to take on powerful organisations such as Vedanta and the Isha Foundation for alleged illegal activities that affect the environment.
Nityanand Jayaraman, Chennai
Writer, researcher and activist Nityanand Jayaraman has been featured by multiple media organisations and there is hardly a story on the environment in Chennai that is written without his comment to add credibility to it. He began his career as a journalist before donning the role of a full time activist. He now leads the Coastal Resource Centre in Chennai which aims to provide sustained support to coastal communities in the face of development activities that are destructive in nature. He does this by using democratic spaces for dissent and proactive engagement. Ahead of the monsoons that Tamil Nadu witnessed recently, he helped organise a human chain to highlight the encroachments on Ennore creek. It involved residents of Ennore and the rest of Chennai, allowing stakeholders to display their concern to the government.