Development, at what cost?

Ambika Shaligram
Thursday, 23 August 2018

Photographer Bibhas Amonkar will be speaking on the Sahyadris and why it’s imperative to protect our heritage

Wildlife photographer and activist Bibhas Amonkar, who launched Save our Sahyadris (SOS) campaign two years ago, is going to speak on ‘Being, Body and Soul of the Sahyadri — Understood through the lens’ on Saturday. Much of what he is going to speak is known to conscientious citizens, but it assumes significance with what has happened in Kerala. 

Amonkar, who was a part of Save our Western Ghats march, initiated by Madhav Gadgil three decades ago, says, “Kerala is in trouble and people are pouring in funds. But why can’t we foresee the problem and prevent it? Exploitation has taken a drastic form now. There is lot of deforestation going on, degrading the Sahyadris. The crisis of drying up of our water resources is staring in our face.”

The talk has been organised by Maharaja Shivachhatrapati Pratishthan Trust, Pune in collaboration with INTACH Pune Chapter, as a part of the heritage series — Vedh-Retrospection. 

Giving us an outline of what his powerpoint presentation is going to be, the Mumbai-based photographer says, “I will be talking about Sahyadri mountains, right from its formation to present day status. I will also touch upon Shivaji Maharaj’s rule, how he used the geography and the terrain of the state to its advantage. And, also the eco-system which the mountain range supports.”

“The Sahyadri mountain is made of igneous rocks and this being a solid rock, there are no natural caves. We can find cavities though. The Sahyadris fall under the rainshadow part and hence we find a forest cover in the western flank. The eastern flank has a moist deciduous forest,” explains Amonkar. 

He moves on to elaborate how this terrain became the backbone of Shivaji Maharaj’s Swarajya rule. “On the primary ridge of Sahyadri, most of our forts are located. Below this ridge, are the secondary and tertiary ranges. Maharaj made the brilliant move of shifting his capital from Rajgad to Raigad. His arch enemies were the Mughals with huge cavalry and when he moved the capital to Raigad, which is cut off from the main land, the Mughal couldn’t bring down the elephants etc,” he informs.  

When Amonkar talks about the Chhatrapati, he is full of admiration for Shivaji’s grit and foresight. But in the same breath, he ridicules those who vandalise and deface the forts and other historical monuments. “Maharaj spent his life fighting and building the forts, safeguarding our safety. He didn’t write his name on the walls or defaced them like today’s love-lorn people. By birth, it is our right to protect and conserve what we have been given. But what are we doing about it? There is not one fort in good condition that we can talk of with pride or show around. Why can’t we restore our forts to their former glory? It will give impetus to tourism,” he points out. 

Amonkar, son of late vocalist Kishori Amonkar, wants each one of us to do something to spread awareness and be conscious of natural heritage. On his part, he launched the Sahyadri campaign with a bicycle rally.  

“I do a lot of wildlife photography and I have been moving around the forests in Sahyadri for four decades now. Every time I went, I used to feel bad at the rapid deforestation and so I started SOS two years ago. We launched it with a cycle rally, because that’s how most of the villages in the mountain region can be accessed. We cycled 1,200 km, going up and down the ghats, meeting, networking, learning about ourselves and the region. A public voice, opinion should be formed to save what is left of the Sahyadris,” he adds. 

The core of his work asks one question — ‘Development, at what cost?’ “The water sources, of Krishna and Bhima rivers, are in the mountain ranges. And, they are drying up. These rivers irrigate the field of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Imagine what will happen then. We are shaving off our mountain tops, so the top soil flows down from the ghats to dams, or river beds around them. If a dam, say for instance, has capacity to hold 10 litres, can now hold only 3 litres, because rest all is silt. There is load on the filtration capacity,” emphasises the photographer. 

He is also trying to preserve what is left through his photographs. “One picture speaks a thousand words. The people in the rural areas are not literate, so they can’t understand scientific tomes. But if you show them the specie or its photo, they can identify it and give you information on when and where it grows etc,” says Amonkar, whose curiosity for nature was piqued when he came across a pangolian, near his ancestral house in Goa. 

Amonkar found his calling. What about us?

Photographer Bibhas Amonkar to speak on ‘Being, Body and Soul of the Sahyadri - Understood through the lens’ on Saturday evening, 4 pm at Sarkar Wada. Ambegaon Budruk

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