Lindsay Pereira: Messages from the deep

Apr 07, 2018, 06:13 IST | Lindsay Pereira

Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings have been spotted for the first time in decades after a clean-up of Versova beach. Will the govt recognise this as a sign?

The Olive Ridley hatchlings at Versova beach last month. File pic
The Olive Ridley hatchlings at Versova beach last month. File pic

Newspapers around the world documented the appearance of hatchlings from a vulnerable turtle species after they appeared on Versova beach a couple of weeks ago. It has been decades since the turtles were last seen on our shores, and their presence is testimony not just to the power of some Bombayites to affect change, but to the fact that nature can be forgiving even in the face of callousness.

Our government did nothing to save the turtles, of course, because we live in a state where human beings aren't particularly high on the list of priorities either. They appeared because of a massive volunteer clean-up operation, protected by volunteers who reportedly slept overnight at the beach to watch over them. The United Nations has called Versova the 'world's largest beach clean-up project', and it should be celebrated for showing the rest of us how we can succeed despite our consecutive governments that fail us.

One of the saddest things about living in a metropolis as chaotic and mismanaged as Bombay is how our daily struggles make it harder for us to pay attention to species that rely upon our behaviour for survival. When was the last time we spared a thought for birds in our city, for instance? Do we know why the number of sparrows has been dropping over the past couple of years? What about other small birds? Why are they following in the footsteps of vultures that stopped visiting us a long time ago?

Almost all efforts to save animals come from private organisations, presumably because the government's idea of animal welfare is to import penguins and compel them to perform in glass cages for our collective amusement. It's also why efforts to save Aarey Milk Colony continue to be ignored by politicians who prefer to focus on projects like waterways, flyovers and statues. It's easy to see why, considering all of these projects involve budgets that stretch into thousands of crores. Why save the environment unless someone, somewhere can get a kickback?

The appearance of turtles ought to energise us to look at our impact on the environment not because it's fashionable to do so on World Environment Day, but because it changes the city we leave to those who come after us. Aarey Milk Colony is home to all kinds of birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals like spotted deer, civets and leopards. When was the last time you took a trip to this part of town? When was the last time you were given information about its biodiversity or updates on what is being done to conserve it? Why is it that these 3,160 acres of land only find their way to front pages of newspapers when there is a move made to encroach upon them?

A number of organisations have repeatedly pointed out how earmarking Aarey for a metro car shed over 28 hectares will lead to the uprooting of 2,298 trees. MMRDA says 2,044 trees can be transplanted, but when was the last time the government successfully transplanted any trees in your neighbourhood? Do any of us have access to information about trees that have been transplanted in the past? Setting up a metro shed is just the first step towards what may well be the complete destruction of our city's last remaining green lung. It's the kind of move that could have repercussions not just for Sanjay Gandhi National Park and parts of the Mithi River that flow alongside, but for flora and fauna that no one in the corridors of power has begun to pay attention to yet.

We have already ruined the home of leopards that once shared a backyard with us, prompting them to stray out of their comfort zones and into the path of armed men. Our inability to recognise the species we share our city with only leaves us poorer in the long run. In January this year, a new campaign initiated by one of the many groups fighting to protect Aarey got around two lakh missed calls from citizens within four days. Citizens were asked to do this to compel the government to look for alternative sites for the Metro car shed. For now, the turtles have spoken. We should compel our government to pay attention to what they're saying.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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