"We have no political agenda. Our visit is not to weaken the Congress or the UDF. We are here to study the issues raised by estate leases, workers, and environmental groups," Mr. Prathapan said.

A team of United Democratic Front (UDF) legislators who, on their own, visited Nelliampathy on Monday said their visit to the ecologically sensitive hill station is the beginning of green politics in Kerala.

Addressing presspersons at Nelliampathy after holding a hearing on the issue of government takeover of lease-expired and lease-violated forestland/estates, Congress lawmakers V.D. Satheesan, T.N. Prathapan, V.T Balram, and Hibi Eden and Socialist Janata (Democratic) legislator M.V. Shreyams Kumar said “their attempt is to open a new warfront in Kerala to protect the environment, soil, water, and forest which form the basic requirements for the survival of life on earth.”

The Congress MLAs claimed that they had informed Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Ramesh Chennithala of their visit. The other members of the team, M.V. Shreyams Kumar (SJ-D) and K.M. Shaji (India Union Muslim League), had taken approval from their party leadership. Mr. Shaji could not attend the sitting as he had to return following the death of a close relative, the MLAs said.

Mr. Satheesan said that in the fight to protect the environment “we will seek the support of not only the UDF MLAs but also the LDF MLAs and other sections of the people. We do not want to bring politics in the fight to protect the environment.”

Hassan’s resignation

Asked about the resignation of H.H. Hassan as convener of the official UDF subcommittee which visited Nelliampathy (to study the issue) on August 1, Mr. Satheesan said, “We are in no way responsible for it because we have not cast any aspersions on him or other members of the committee. Mr. Hassan’s resignation is due to some mistaken notions. The committee lost its credibility because one of its members, P.C. George (Government Chief Whip), took a biased stand on the issue from the very beginning.”

Asked whether the ruling UDF is reopening a legally settled issue (the status of Nelliampathy forestland) by appointing a subcommittee, Mr. Satheesan said, “We are not reopening a legally settled issue. The stand of the UDF and its government is clear: that all lease-expired and lease-violated forestland will be resumed by the government. This is not only in Nelliampathy but in the entire State. The UDF MLAs have come to study the issue without any preconceived stand.”

The legislators said they will submit their report shortly to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and the UDF leadership.

“We have no political agenda. Our visit is not to weaken the Congress or the UDF. We are here to study the issues raised by estate leases, workers, and environmental groups,” Mr. Prathapan said.

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