Except for the media in his hometown Mumbai, the death of Darryl D’Monte, former Resident Editor of the Mumbai editions of Times of India and Indian Express and a pioneer among environmental journalists, was hardly noticed. However, D’Monte, who passed away at 74 last week, will be remembered with affection and gratitude by a large community of ecologists and environmental activists in Kerala, for his leveraging of the upcountry media to turn public opinion against the proposals in the 1970s to drown the Silent Valley under a dam and a hydroelectric project.
Prof. M.K. Prasad, who as the then head of the environmental brigade of the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishat (KSSP) in the 1970s, helped D’Monte understand the development-versus -environment issues during the critical period, says, “Darryl was unique among upcountry journalists and he realised the importance of Silent Valley. He used his journalistic resources to educate readers about the ecological issues during the critical period when the fate of the Valley hung in the balance. Indeed, he was one of the earliest environmental journalists in India – long before environment became a regular media issue.”
After interacting with Prof. Prasad as well as other Kerala-based experts like V.K. Damodaran, M.P. Parameswaran, Sathish Chandran Nair and U.K. Gopalan, D’Monte realised that the Silent Valley was doomed unless public and official opinion could be roused. He wrote editorials in the Times of India and commissioned detailed analysis by Kerala-based experts in the paper's Sunday magazine, which reached an audience in North India – and crucially Delhi – for the first time. Together with Zafar Futehally and Dilnavaz Variava of the Bombay Natural History Society, he helped internationalise the Silent Valley’s perils at forums like WWF.
The Valley was ultimately saved after Mrs. Indira Gandhi, as Prime Minister, accepted the recommendations of the M.G.K. Menon Committee that advised cancellation of the hydel project. D’Monte took a brief sabbatical to write the book Temple or Tombs? highlighting three environmental causes celebre in India – the major chunk documenting the Silent Valley saga. By coincidence, it was published by the Centre for Science and Environment only a few months before the Silent Valley National Park was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in September 1985.
The Valley changed Darryl D’Monte. He went on to help create the Forum of Environmental Journalists of India and later served as founder-president of the International Federation of Environmental Journalists, inspiring a generation of journalists to specialise in environmental communication. He wrote a second book, in 2002, Ripping the Fabric, documenting the cynical exploitation of former mill land in Mumbai, and was active till the end, highlighting civic issues in his hometown. He died in Mumbai on March 17, after a brief spell in hospital, but had been battling cancer for some time.
Darryl was unique among upcountry journalists to realise the value of Silent Valley. He used his journalistic resources to educate readers about the ecological issues during the anxious period when fate of the Valley hung in the balance. Indeed, he was one of the earliest environmental journalists in India -- long before environment became a regular media issue.
—Prof M.K. Prasad, Former head, KSSP