Karnataka, April 29: A couple bought 300 acres of barren land in Karnataka and has transformed it into a private sacntuary harbouring some very extinct species in the country. But the journey was difficult.
Pamela Malhotra revels. With husband Anil K Malhotra, she spent 25 years buying unused and abandoned agricultural land and recreating them as a bidiversity rainforest for elephants, leopards, tigers, and birds.
The couple owns 300 acres of land in Brahmagiri, a mountain range in the Western Ghats, which houses the Malhotras' Save Animals Initiative (SAI) Sanctuary.
Going back to the beginning, Anil says,"When I came here with a friend who suggested I buy this land, it was a wasteland of 55 acres. The owner wanted to sell because he couldn't grow coffee or anything else here." An alumnus of Doon school, Anil owned real estate and restaurant businesses in the US before moving to India.
Their motivation? When the Malhotras came to India for Anil's father's funeral in 1986, the pollution in th eriver Ganges in Haridwar outraged the couple. "There was so much deforestation, the timber lobby was in charge, and the river was polluted. And no one seemed to care. That was when we decided to do something to reclaim the forests in India," said Anil.
They headed to the South when they lost all hopes of finding lands in the North. Despite warning from friends that the land would not fetch any return, the couple started their work of forest reconstruction. "We were not looking for money. Early on, we realized that shortage of fresh water will be a concern for India and the rest of the world. Acquisition, protection and reclamation of forested lands and wildlife habitat, where vital water sources have their origin, is the only way to save ourselves," explained Anil.
But that was the beginning of the challenges. While one side of the river belonged to them, they soon realised that planting trees would not help if the farmers were using pesticides on th eother side to grow crops. So they started buying land there whenever it was on sale or the farmers wanted to leave get rid of their lands. Barring that, there were legal issues that needed to be sorted.
Poaching and hunting wild animals were other issues, which were sorted by making the villagers aware of the ecosystem and the value it added. In fact, they later helped the couple install CCTV cameras to prevent poaching.
The couple gets help from other trustees to keep the sanctuary going. They also try convincing large companies to buy land and let it flourish as part of their corporate social responsibility plans. "Corporates should extend their CSR activities towards this sector," says Pamela. "Without water, what business will you do?"