Mining threat looms large over Chakkittapara village and the local people are not ready to take it lying down

For Chakkittapara panchayat, the Payyanikotta hill is land’s end. The way to the peak, the highest point in the panchayat, is densely wooded. On the top rests an imposing boulder which gives a breathtaking view of the Western Ghats’ spread.

Once in a while, a shower of granite rocks is let loose. Local people blame the leopards and elephants who roam the forests beyond the Payyani ‘fortress’ for the phenomenon.

Folklore, scripted by settler farmers, hunters (before hunting was banned), and wood gatherers, also says there is a cave beyond the hill where the animals rest during summer. No one has seen it, no one has ventured beyond the hill. “Payyanikotta nammale kaavala (Payyanikotta guards us),” says K.K. Kelappan, a first-generation settler farmer.

First displacement

But governmental consent to a private company to mine 406.45 hectares in Chakkittapara village for 30 years would have led to the levelling of the Payyanikotta. For the villagers, especially those who live beneath the shade of the hill, mining would have meant another displacement. And this time, they say, there would have been no place to go.

In 1961, when Kelappan was a strapping young man, his family was asked to make way for the Peruvannamuzhi dam project. His was among the 100 families who were given alternative land in the upper slopes of Chakkittapara, near the Alampara Estate.

In 1977, the State government invited young couples to participate in its collective farming venture at Chakkittapara and 182 of them came from various parts of the State. But the venture failed after the farmers’ debts mounted. In a bid to set things right, the government granted them land titles in 1981.

“We cultivate cashew, cocoa, coconut, and rubber. Most of us have one or two acres of land. We want to live here. We are troubled by this news about iron ore mining rights. If this ever happens, where do we go?” asks Kelappan.

Despite news filtering in that the Cabinet has cancelled the in-principle consent for mining, the villagers are not so sure. A one-page resolution passed by the grama sabha held at Chakkittapara describes the panchayat’s average villager as a ‘hardworking person who battled nature, wild animals, diseases and lived as one with nature’ for the past 75 years.

K. Sunil, Chakkittapara grama panchayat president, says the village has been flirting with the prospects of mining since 1954.

Expression of interest

“In 1954, the Central Mining Department first expressed interest. In 1971, they came here to collect samples, but decided the iron content did not meet their standards for an investment. At that time the local people thought mining interests in the area would bring good infrastructure. But now with emphasis on local governance, people have no need for development through mining,” he said.

Strong intervention of the local body has led to tarred roads, public drinking water, and community centres in the past four years here. The panchayat is also host to the 148 hectares of Plantation Corporation of Kerala Ltd. – a major public sector undertaking for rubber production and manufacturing; the Kuttiadi reservoir, the largest in Malabar and a perennial source of power for the district; the Japan-aided drinking water project; and the District Agricultural Farm.

Residents’ demands

“On October 31, the local people stopped a private company’s team from surveying the land. We said the people have not been consulted before mining rights were given. We wanted a discussion with the authorities,” K. Sunil said. A meeting was held two days later on November 2. Its minutes highlight the apprehensions of the panchayat. That it would lead to ecological problems, drinking water scarcity, and en masse unemployment for workers of the Plantation Corporation of Kerala Ltd., the land of which also came under the mining land survey.

“We asked the tahsildar to pass on our grievances to the government. Let them know that we are against mining. This was our first step of protest,” Mr. Sunil said. “We were wrong. For us, mining does not mean development. Now it is our turn to guard the fortress,” says Francis, a villager.

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