Digital archiving tools help rescue the media story about the Saving of Silent Valley
30-year old press cuttings record the groundswell of public opinion that helped save India’s most precious tract of tropical rain forest
When Union Environment Jairam Ramesh joined the silver jubilee celebrations of the Silent Valley National Park , Kerala’s priceless piece of rain forest recently, he also helped launch a digitally driven piece of conservation: the scanned and enhanced archive of media stories dating to the mid 1970s, which told the story of the national and international popular wave that finally stirred the Indian government to call off plans for a hydel project that might have drowned the Silent Valley.
The combination of a proactive Kerala Forest Minister – Benoy Vishwam and the current head of the Kerala Forest service, Principal Chief Conservator T M Manoharan, a veteran who was active in service in the crucial years for the Valley,saw the fading press cuttings rescued and digitally enhanced for preservation on an optical media – and eventual uploading to the web portal of the Kerala Forest Department.
This is the story of that effort – today’s computer technology helping preserve a brief glorious chapter in environment conservation with strong media support:
“Saving Silent Valley: The Media Story” is a compilation of facsimile clippings from Malayalam and English newspapers and magazines from the time when a hydroelectric project within the Valley was first mooted to the day when the proposal was called off and a decision taken by the government to create a national park in Silent Valley.
The press cuttings span a period from January 1977 when the media began active discussion on the proposal to build a dam across the Kunthipuzha river within Silent Valley to April 1984 when the Kerala state cabinet announced a decision to ‘postpone’ the work on the hydro electric project ( it was never taken up ) and notified the Silent Valley as a National Park.
The bulk of the cuttings form part of the archives maintained by the Kerala Sahitya Sahitya Parishad( KSSP). To the Parishad’s crucial decision to collect all cuttings of the time, dealing with Silent Valley, and to Prof M.K. Prasad’s ( the then President, KSSP) personal zeal, in particular, we owe this vital part of our media and conservation history -- many of the clippings can no longer found since some of the publications have become defunct and others have not preserved their files after 3o years or more. The Hindu which was one of the most powerful voices in support of saving the valley, generously made available its own archival resources at its Thiruvananthapuram state bureau, to the compilers of this collection. The current Editor in Chief, N Ram and S Rangamony Deputy Editor and Thiruvananthapuram Bureau Chief( now retired) spared a lot of their personal time; Mr Ram to recollect the paper’s editorial stanceon Silent Valley during the crucial period 1979-84 and Mr Rangamony, to facilitate the extraction of facsimiles from the files of the paper. T.V Achutha Warrier, former Executive Editor of The Express ( Thrissur), and the author of many of that now-defunct newspaper’s powerful items in support of the Valley, took a lot of pains, long after the relevant period, to provide the most important clippings from the paper.
The files of the KSSP were so complete with regard other Kerala based publications ( and a few important items from upcountry national media) that the editors were saved from having to trawl the records of individual publications.
It was another matter when it came to the physical state of this valuable resource. Newsprint being what is, a lot of the paper had begun to deteriorate after 20 years and had become difficult to read. In some cases the material had to be handled with pincers to prevent disintegration. Today’s digital technologies have been harnessed to enhance and render readable, to the extent possible these old records..
Here is a link to THE HINDU's story on the SilentValley media archive: