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Farewell To A Rare Environmental Activist And Great Humanist: Latha Anantha Is No More

Environmental Justice Movement in India says Goodbye to a compadre

16 November 2017 Our dear Latha Anantha, who founded the River Research Centre at Thrissur, Kerala and spearheaded the resistance to the Chalakudy Dam, and also led and participated in tens of struggles for environmental justice around the world, is no more with us. She had been battling cancer for a while now, and she passed away on the morning of 16th November 2017. Environment Support Group has a long and meaningful relationship with Latha for almost two decades now.  Latha was at once a fierce activist, with whom one could not hold an argument without proper preparation, and also a deeply humanistic woman.  No one who met with Latha would come away unaffected by her cherubic nature and affected deeply by her happiness.I met with Latha and her partner Unni in November 2016.  By now Latha had already survived multiple struggles with a disease she would not allow to deter her enthusiasm.  And during my visit, Latha was so happy to see me that she pushed away her scheduled rest to just talk and laugh.We laughed a lot. A lot. We recalled all the good times when we had campaigned together. We laughed at how we argued and fought with each other over strategies and just about everything unnecessarily. And then we recalled how we came together to fight against powerful forces whose avariciousness was cost us our earth.

I had given Latha an assignment: to write stories, of serious and silly episodes in life. “One every month”, she had promised. But as the mischievous student of life she was, she never sent any.

She took them all with her. 

Leaving us content with memories of her ever smiling face.Here’s a picture from my visit to Latha and Unni a year ago.Latha and Unni, Nov 2016To Latha, activism was not merely about fighting injustices. It was about deep humanism. Here’s what she wrote to me about how she was dealing with downsides of cancer, after I had visited her last year.

{From: Latha Anantha <[email protected]>
Date: 21 March 2017 at 10:27:14 PM IST
To: leo saldanha  
Cc: “Bhargavi S. Rao”  
Subject: Re: CHALUKADY

Dear Leo,

Yes, the three of us had a wonderful time. Hopefully we can meet up again in a different mileau.

I am in a new avatar…almost an arm chair activist now. Finding time to read, write, draw sing…which I had lost in hard core activism. But the fire remains. 
Your visit was inspiring for both of us…

Why don’t both of you come down sometime on the way to some meeting or even without any agenda. Missing those days and discussions.

My long distance travel is presently restricted by my Doctor !!!

Latha}Here is a picture of Latha with Bhargavi. This was taken when Bhargavi and I travelled to Thrissur about a decade ago to be part of the campaign against the Chalukady Dam.Latha and BhargaviLatha never allowed her battle with cancer to get the better of her activism. She was constantly in touch with what was happening around her and extremely active in guiding the Coalition for Environmental Justice in India.  She wrote two very powerful words a little over a week before her final goodbye.

{From: Latha Anantha <[email protected]>
Date: 4 November 2017 at 8:46:06 PM IST
To: Leo Saldanha <[email protected]>

We should

On Oct 29, 2017 1:33 PM, “Leo Saldanha” <[email protected]> wrote:
This is serious. This is corruption.

Officers who are involved in prosecuting Art of Living are being trained by AOL. And MoEF is paying for the training.

Shall we protest this ..?

“The Art of Living’s proposal to the ministry mentioned Rs 6,500 (plus taxes) per participant per day as fees. The ministry’s sanction letter to the NGO, however, put the course fee at Rs 15,000 per participant, plus Rs 7,500 as reimbursement for boarding/ lodging during the course.”}

http://indianexpress.com/…/under-ngt-scrutiny-sri-sri…/Her message was simple and direct.  Fight for what is right, relentlessly. Never say never.  As she proved to us with her very life. Until the very end she was active. Fighting for environmental and social justice. But with a smile that absolutely would melt any heart.For Latha Anantha, there was no question about damming the Chalakudy river. She was clear that over two decades of successful struggle had determined the river shall flow and that the river would jump over grand Athirapally falls and continue her journey unimpeded forever into the future. And towards this end, she organised a major convention on the Chalukady inviting former Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to speak at Chalakudy on 18 August 2017.  Latha sincerely hoped the Kerala Government would drop this mindless proposal to build a dam. A proposal that had gone through several revisions, expired environmental clearances, and whose feasibility was comprehensively rejected time and again. Most critically, the damage the dam would do to the forests ached Latha very much. An ache that she sang about and campaigned about.Earlier this year, she wrote about why we should work with her in stopping the Chalukady Dam, the environmental clearance for which had yet again just expired.{>> On 20-07-2017 12:36, Latha Anantha wrote:
>> Dear All,
>> The extension of third Environmental Clearance given to Athirapilly hydro project has lapsed on 17 th July 2017. The third Environmental Clearance was granted on 18.07.2007. it was given extension in 18.07.2012 for Five more years after its five year validity. And that also got lapsed on July 17 th 2017
>> We are happy to say that from a local campaign in the 1980s, it became an open public issue by the late 1990s, we managed to stall the project for more than 25 years, not even a stone could be laid.
>> The EIA related high court cases starting from 2001, two favorable judgements in 2001& 2006 two court ordered Public hearings in 2002 and 2006, another led by Legislative Committee, A People’s Tribunal, A PH demanded by five member Dr. P.G. Shastri Committee of EAC River Valley Committee in April 2007, , Prof. Gadgil led PH in 2011. A River March from Chalakudy town to Athirappilly , two satyagrahas, many tv programs, meetings with many ministers, MLAs etc….etc… not going to details.
>> Our demand is to abandon the PROJECT forever which is ecologically, economically and socially unviable. The news reads that the KSEB is once again going to try for EC. ( We are not sure if they mean new one or extension) . We submit that the lapse of EC should be followed by Abandoning the project forever by the GoI or MoEF.
>> Anyway the people in the valley , including most of the political parties and environmentally consious citizens in the state and outside are not going to allow the project.
>> We wish to thank all who supported us till this moment.
>> We are happy that the EC has lapsed. But then we will continue….
>> I personally am thankful to the beautiful flowing Athirappilly waterfalls and the river and it’s forests for the energy it has been giving me against all odds.
>> By
>> Latha Anantha, S.P.Ravi, Mohandas, K K Shelly, Krishnettan, Unnikrishnan.S, Murari Raghavan, Kittan Mash, Sachidandan Puzhankara, Geetha.k Vazhachal and other Kadar friends, Janaki Chechi, Ammini Chechi and friends, Zabna AB, Rajneesh , Aryan , Sajeev, Chalakudy River Protection Forum, Dharmaraj , Prof Kusumam Joseph etc etc..
>> There have been many known persons who participated in the different meetings like Medha Patkar, Leo Saldhana, Panduji, Kumar Kalanandji, Sri V M Sudheeran, late M N Vijayan , Late Sukumar Azhikode, Sri K P Rajendran, Adv Rajan, Binoy Viswom, and many more representing most political parties.
>> Many political parties including the ruling opposition in Kerala and one section of the ruling party also passed resolution against the project, many river basin GP heads etc….etc.
>> Since it is difficult to include all events and people in the lists above, apologies for leaving out many … and also memory lapse…!
>> Warm regards,
>> Latha}Latha was deeply concerned that Government’s were increasingly becoming insensitive to the concerns environmental and social activists were raising.  So when the Uttarakhand High Court declared Ganga a living person, there was the widespread celebration. It seemed like a silver lining on dark clouds that were gathering over India’s environment.  For Latha, while the decision was welcome, it was not sufficient, and she shared this view in an email:
{The term river needs expansion of scope and meaning. We should expand the meaning of river to include all its micro watersheds from where the inflows are contributed. includes its entire catchment from the origin of the first tributary to the meeting with the sea. . Basically a river’s flow depends upon the health of its catchment. Automatically forests, biodiversity and wildlife, land use should be be part of that. However this will need thorough de schooling among our techno and bureaucrats in the first place. 

The New Zealand Act makes an indigenous committee member as Guardian. In the case of UKhand, it is again the Government agencies. That makes a huge difference in to what extent the rights will be interpreted. 

We have a long way to go

Latha Anantha 

See the ruling here: http://www.livelaw.in/first-india-uttarakhand-hc…/}When the Modi administration decided to whittle down the Envtl laws of India, even more than had already been done before, and based on the controversial recommendations of the TSR Subramanian Cmt., Latha Anantha was very disturbed. She wanted us all to come together and fight the proposed “reforms”, just as we had all come together in 2005 to fight the weakening of Envtl laws which Manmohan Singh led administration had promoted. {See: http://www.panjab.org.uk/english/dthmoef.htm

Here’s what Latha suggested we should do:

{As i had mentioned in a previous communication lead on this yesterday, it is the time we came together as we did for opposing the EIA Notification 2006, with more concerted efforts needed this time compared to 2005.

I think efforts should be taken to meet up with the Parliamentary Standing Committee Chairman in charge Ashwini Kumar and brief him on this apart from Jairam and Rajeev Gowda and others. 

We can try talking to Left and Congress MPs in Kerala. Maybe a joint letter endorsed by groups across the country should be sent to MPs who can talk for us as a starter. Had sent the submissions by you and many among us to N K Premachandran and briefed him over phone as well. He has expressed his willingness to help if groups across the country raise the issue 

Looking forward to the outcomes of the meeting in Delhi. 

Latha}There were multiple causes that Latha Anantha worked for.  One she held close to her heart was to ensure wildlife conservation and human rights concerns worked together. She wrote about the stress animals suffered during the long drought in April this year:

{Dear Leo

Though we have been knowing this, it is Highly disturbing. Gaurs are getting killed in Munnar Marayur area in the Western Ghats due to infection from weather changes.

How do we address adaptation and mitigation measures? Just drinking holes are not going to help. Restoration of catchment areas with involvement of indigenous communities and forest fringe villages will be needed. 

http://www.thehindu.com/…/animal…/article18282704.ece…}Farewell and peace Latha, my friend, our friend.  Leo Saldanha


campaigns,Chalakudy,Latha Anantha,River Research Centre

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