Seven police vehicles set ablaze, several policemen injured in stone-pelting

Tense situation prevails in parts of Kottiyur panchayat in the eastern hill areas of the district in the wake of the incidents of violence at Kelakam in the late hours of Thursday triggered by local anger against the implementation the recommendations of the Kasturirangan committee on the Western Ghats and protests against a survey by officials of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Seven police vehicles including five jeeps and two vans were set ablaze and two vehicles were overturned when the local protest against the implementation of the Kasturirangan panel report burst into violent incidents provoked by the routine forest survey by a four-member team of MoEF officials from neighbouring Karnataka. The situation was brought under control, the police said.

It all began when the MoEF team reached Chunkakunnu Pottamthottil on Thursday afternoon in a jeep. Their arrival for the survey on the day when the MoEF issued directions to Kerala and five other State governments prohibiting developmental activities in the ecologically sensitive areas of the Western Ghats turned out to be a trigger for the eruption of violent protest. The members of the team were held hostage by the protesting local residents. After a police party that reached there freed the officials, a large crowd turned up and took them away. Subsequently, a large number of people from Kottiyur and Chunkakunnu areas unleashed violence, setting fire to police vehicles and pelting stones at the police personnel on Thursday night. Several police personnel including Superintendent of Police suffered injuries in the attack in the late hours. The rear windscreen of the SP’s vehicle was broken in stone pelting.

The situation was brought under control when District Collector Rathan Kelkar reached the spot in the early hours of Friday to pacify the irate crowd. The Collector and SP Rahul R. Nair assured the protestors that their grievances would be brought to the attention of the government and that no penal action would be taken against them in connection with the incidents of violence. Following this the officials of the MoEF were released.

Assurance to vicar

Situation remained tense on Friday as local action committee leaders and political leaders including K. Sudhakaran, local MLA; Sunny Joseph, MLA, and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader James Mathew reached Malur police station at around noon demanding release of four persons detained by the police.

When contacted, Mr. Joseph said that the Collector and the SP had assured in writing to the local vicar that no penal action would be taken against the residents in connection with the incidents. The police backtracked from that assurance, he said. The four were later released.

Iritty Deputy Superintendent of Police M. Pradeep Kumar said that the situation was under control. A force of 300 personnel were deployed in the area after the situation unexpectedly escalated, he said.