The misinformation campaign unleashed by land sharks and other groups on the impact of Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) and Kasturirangan committee reports has resulted in widespread panic across the State.
The flurry of panic calls received at the Tree Health helpline opened by the Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), Thrissur, was testimony to the deep impact of the campaign, said Bindu K. Jose of the entomology department of the KFRI who handled calls.
Over the last two days, about 176 callers contacted the helpline to check the veracity of information they had received on the possible fallout of the reports.
One woman, who broke down over phone, wanted to know whether her agricultural land — her only source of income — would be taken away by the government. Some farmers were made to believe that they would have to paint their houses green and that wild animals would be released in their backyard, as part of implementation of the recommendations.
A few residents were under the impression that they would have to switch off lights in their houses after 8 p.m.
Most callers from Wayanad, Idukki, Kozhikode, Kannur, Kollam and even Bangalore were anxious about the future of farming in their own holdings.
The possibility of a new tax regime on agricultural property worried a large number of callers.
Land sharks and their agents have advised several farmers and plantation owners to sell off their holdings at throwaway prices, after convincing them that land prices would plummet.
Land value had dropped in several areas of the State following the campaign, callers said.
Researchers Saumya Rahulan and C.J Alex, and KFRI scientists K.K. Ramachandran and M. Amrut chipped in to provide callers detailed information on various scientific aspects.
The callers seemed concerned about possible restrictions on felling of trees located in their properties, restriction on transfer of ownership of holdings and the possibility of converting agriculture land into forest. Those from the tourism sector, including homestead owners, were worried about the likely restrictions on their business.
Quarry and crusher owners from Idukki, Wayanad and Kasaragod districts were anxious about the future of their ventures. Some minors sought explanations from researchers on how the demand for sand and rock for construction would be met if all the quarries were to be closed down.
Call analysis revealed that majority of the callers did not have any access to the original reports. Almost all callers sought copies of the WGEEP and Kasturirangan committee reports. Abridged and Malayalam versions of the reports were mailed to 40 persons. Those callers who did not have email addresses were asked to download the report from the nearest Akshaya centres. The reports were mailed to the centres, Ms. Jose said.
Profiling of the callers revealed that people from all walks of life, including commoners, legal advisors, members of local bodies, and land and plantation owners, had made use of the facility.