NGT case turns spotlight on Kerala’s serpent groves acting as biodiversity reserves

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By Jaison Wilson
New Delhi, May 29 (IANS) Responding to a petition alleging the destruction of a sacred pond with its presiding deity “Nagaraja” (King of Snakes) and a sacred grove in Kunnathunad near bypoll-bound Thrikkakara, the Kerala Biodiversity Board has apprised the National Green Tribunal that there was no serpent grove or Nagaraja Temple as claimed by the applicant.

The applicant representing Kuruvichira Sri Nagaraja Temple was alleging that Kunnathunad Grama Panchayath is attempting to destroy the patch of forest coupled with a sacred pond with its presiding deity “Nagaraja” known locally as Kuruvichira Nagaraja Temple in Ernakulam district.

He sought direction from the green court to the village authorities not to undertake any developmental activities, including a proposed water drinking project in the area.

According to the applicant, the area spanning 56 cents is an extension of his family property of 5 acres. The place is being treated as a Serpent grove and the people were worshipping the Serpent God. The Serpent grove or Holy forest, is rich in biodiversity and any intrusion into it will amount to degradation of biological diversity and ecology, he stated.

The serpent grove with a lot of trees and for attracting a large number of migratory birds, it said.

The Grama Panchayat submitted that the pond vested with the panchayat and not a forest land denying the claims of the temple.

At present the pond is reduced to a small space and the remaining area is lying as garden land in which a big mango tree is standing along with other small shrubs, it said.

It was proposed to develop the pond for providing drinking water to the people in the locality at a cost of Rs 15 lakh but it is not yet implemented, it stated.

The biodiversity board in the report stated that a study will have to be done for rejuvenating the lake as it has some potential index of biological diversity in which the Panchayat intended to have a drinking water project.

The southern bench of the NGT headed by Justice K. Ramakrishnan noted the absence of the petitioner for a long time.

Disposing of the plea, the tribunal directed the panchayat that if it wants to proceed with the project they have to follow the report of the board for the purpose of protection of the waterbody as well as biodiversity.

It also directed the panchayat to obtain the necessary permission from the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) or other authorities for implementing the drinking water project in accordance with the law before starting the work.

In the plea, it was described that there are several families in Kerala having a Serpent grove in their own land. Once in six months or once in a year, there used to be puja (offerings) to the snakes there.

Even now, there are sacred groves in Kerala where people worship snakes. To these “preserved forests” none are allowed to enter even for collecting firewood or for anything else. These forests are filled with trees and plants, which are herbs for the treatment of snakebites.

Sacred groves in India are known under different names in different parts of the country as “Dev” in Madhya Pradesh, “Deorais or Deovani” in Maharashtra, “Sarnas” in Bihar, “Oran” in Rajasthan, “Devarakadu” in Karnataka, and “Sarpa Kavu or Kavu” in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

The role of natural sacred sites, particularly sacred groves, is attracting increasing interest in international organisations and conservation organisations such as UNESCO, the WWF and has significant relevance for the implementation of article related to Conservation of Biological Diversity which stresses more on the use of traditional wisdom and practices for conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, it said.

(Jaison Wilson can be reached at jaison.w@ians.in)

–IANS
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