On Monday evening, Eliamma George, president of Thiruvambady gramapanchayat, declared the 12-hour hartal in the district against K. Kasturirangan Committee report on Western Ghats a “success”.
But closer, in the city, A. Achyuthan, noted environmentalist, alleged the hartal was motivated by the “quarry and resorts lobbies”.
Monday’s hartal witnessed such sharp reactions, pitting the settlers and local politicians like Ms. George against the environmentalists.
“The shops were closed in Puthupadi and Kodenjeri villages. In Thiruvambady, vehicles were not allowed. Not a thing moved,” she said.
It also split the district into two. The hilly areas saw a complete shutdown, while life went unhampered in the city. Ms. George’s panchayat fell in the former category.
Even the build-up to the hartal was stark.
Bose Jacob, convenor, Paschimaghatta Janakiya Samithi, warned on the eve of the hartal:
“The recommendations of the K. Kasturirangan Committee report affect the livelihood of settler farmers. It is a conspiracy to convert agricultural land to forests. No thought has been given to the farmers in the regions. Kasturirangan report destroys the fundamental way of life of farmers in the hilly regions. If this is seen through, the agriculture in Koyilandy, Vadakara, and Kozhikode taluks will come to an end.”
As a counter to this, the Paristhithi Samrakshana Samithi protested against the hartal calling it “anti-people” and a “pressure tactic” spurred by the land and quarry mafia.
The samithi has been arranging study classes in various panchayats about the report.
The Kasturirangan panel report distinguishes between cultural and natural landscapes. It also recommends a complete ban on mining, quarrying, and sand mining in highly sensitive areas.
“What we know of the report is what we read in the papers. There is no dissemination of information at the panchayat level or the ward level on the report. We are already bogged down by wild animal attacks. More forest areas mean more destruction of our crops. Nobody is even telling us whether we will be evicted or not. So we support the hartal,” Salomi Thomas, a small-time farmer and Vanam Suraksha Samithi volunteer from Kakkayam, a high-terrain village near the Malabar Wildlife Sanctuary, said.
But Sreevalsan A., chairman of the Paristhithi Samrakshana Samithi, dismissed Mr. Thomas’s apprehensions as the product of “misunderstanding”.
Mr. Achyuthan said animal conflict was only a product of the increasing forays of man into the wild.
“The report marks 13,000 sq. km of Western Ghats as protected in Kerala. Already, sanctuaries and wildlife parks occupy this 13,000 sq. km. This means that status quo will continue as far as human habitations and agriculture is concerned,” Mr. Sreevalsan said.
He pointed to a quote from the Gadgil report that said, “increasingly, the Western Ghats areas are now being occupied by urban individuals/developers with land holdings ranging from 0.5 acres to 1000+ acres. These people are politicians, developers, the common man, corporates, and industrialists”.
“The motivating force behind the hartal today are those people who live in the cities buy large expanses of land in ecologically sensitive areas of the ghats.,” Mr. Sreevalsan said, supporting the observation in the Gadgil report.