A river is the lifeline of a community, and the Mhadei, which in English means “big mother”, has quite evidently smoothly engineered the ecosystem of Goa. The Mhadei is being diverted, and its children are beginning to worry, and the cry of its child Rajendra Kerkar is turning into a wail.
“Mhadei is the only river out of the eleven rivers in Goa that provides the maximum quantity of drinking water to Goa. Forty-three per cent of people in Goa get water from Mhadei,” explains Rajendra Kerkar, one of the few environmentalists from Goa known internationally.
“Mhadei originates in Karnataka, but it has been the heart of Goa insofar as supplying water is concerned. There is no problem if Karnataka wants to divert the water to cater to its people’s drinking needs. But there has to be a mechanism in place on how it is to be done,” feels Rajendra, whose tryst with nature began when he was around fifteen years.
“There should be a legal ground on which the water should be shared. There cannot be an indiscriminate diversion of water which will leave people dry and destroy our environment,” adds Rajendra.
“The lack of environmental education in our school curricula is the root of our problem today. Environmental education should be part and parcel of our education. We talk of environmental problems the world is facing, but we don’t know what is happening in our own backyard,” says Rajendra, who began to walk in step with nature when he used to accompany his mother to the forest to collect firewood.
“Mhadei was declared a wildlife sanctuary on June 5, 1999, on the last day of the President's Rule by then governor Lt Col Jacob. Then secretary Alban Couto from Aldona and the forest secretary of that time convinced the governor that I was not lying about the existence of tigers and the presence of different flora and fauna in the area for him to make the declaration,” recollects Rajendra, as a sense of satisfaction engulfs him.
Nature is the bed of life on which sleep is undisturbed and peaceful, and Rajendra wants fellow Goans to experience this bliss. “I grew up hearing the birds sing, listening to rivers flow. My wish as a kid was to understand the language of the wild because as a kid I could find peace through nature,” he admits as he ponders how man has slowly distanced himself from nature.
“Today, the politician will promise his voters uninterrupted water but fails to educate him on the benefits of wells, the utility of having springs and how rivers could make life sustainable. Mhadei would not have been an issue had we maintained our ecosystem,” avers Rajendra, who has been ridiculed, with little effect though, by politicians.
“Pratapsingh Rane told the villagers in a meeting after Mhadei was notified as a wildlife sanctuary that I was the man responsible for their (the politicians’) misdeeds. People were annoyed with me and there was a threat to stone my house, but Rane on realising that it would have wider repercussions on him, requested the people to stay away,” recalled Rajendra.
“The greed for money has taken man away from nature. The destruction of our environment started with mining which is the beginning of our parting ways with nature. People were forced to oppose Mhadei being declared a wildlife sanctuary in the guise of abetting illegal encroachment of forest land,” argues Rajendra, who proudly claims his twenty-one-year-old daughter is educated without formal education.
“She taught herself naturally,” he proudly admits.
The drive to Rajendra’s house takes one past serene pastures of nature with a river flowing on one side. At 10 am, it feels like dawn with its tresses in the mountains shading the glow of the sun.
“The Mhadei Bachao Andolan was formed in 1998, and it was formed to educate all on nature and the importance of Mhadei to Goa. People from different sections of society are part of this movement. But as I said earlier, Mhadei cannot be saved without the environment being part of our educational curriculum and we must start it in our schools,” advises Rajendra, who has three postgraduate degrees.
“No attempts are made by parents today to explain nature to their children. We talk of deforestation. How many parents have educated their children on the peepal tree? Our foundation began around the peepal tree, which children of today are not even aware of,” laments Rajendra.