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Caught between mining row and Ghats report

Krishnadas Rajagopal
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People of Chakkittapara say they have lived as one with nature, seek people’s report

“If they touch us, it will be another Jallianwala Bagh here,” Chakkittapara grama panchayat president K. Sunil shouts over the anxious din of a grama sabha held at Muthukad Lower Primary School on the slopes of the Western Ghats on Wednesday.

Tempers are high. Anxiety boils over into loud arguments in the small hall where the grama sabha is held. Villagers are crushed by the uncertainty surrounding them, even as their children chant loudly after the teacher in the classroom next door at the school.

“On one side, the Kasturirangan recommendations threaten our livelihood, and on the other the granting of mining rights to a private company has endangered our very existence. We are small farmers with 2 acres of coconuts or rubber. We have no place to go,” K.K. Kelappan, a first-generation settler farmer at Chakkittapara, says.

Seeking support

This is one of the four grama sabhas held back-to-back in the panchayat on Wednesday in a bid to gather the villagers’ voice against the K. Kasturirangan panel recommendations on the Western Ghats.

By the end of the day, the panchayat unanimously passes a one-page resolution to stop the implementation of the recommendations.

The resolution will be presented before an expert committee led by Kerala State Biodiversity Board chairman Oommen V. Oommen that is holding a sitting in the neighbouring Koorachundu panchayat on Thursday.

The resolution says 123 villages in the State will be affected by the reports. Two of them, it claims, come under the Koyilandy taluk in Chakittappara grama panchayat.

“Ecological conservation is not something which a professor sitting far away should do. Stop the implementation of the Professor Madhav Gadgil and K. Kasturirangan reports and start talking to the local people, and with the permission of the grama sabhas concerned form local biodiversity committees to build a mechanism for ecological preservation of the Western Ghat regions. A people’s report should be prepared on ecology conservation. This is our unilateral decision,” the panchayat’s resolution expresses the people’s decision.

Mr. Sunil talks of the “double standards” involved.

“It was after these reports came that the Union Environment Ministry gave clearance for the Aranmula airport project, and conducted surveys for iron deposits in our panchayat. On the one hand they want to conserve ecology and on the other they give permission for profit to private entities. Is that not selective?” he asks.

The resolution says any effort to implement the reports would end in a crisis in various activities such as land registration, grant of agricultural loans, building construction, mining, road works, vehicle use, electricity, and high-terrain agriculture.

Note of dissent

But the grama sabhas are not without dissent.

“But we should leave some greenery for our children. Our time is over. Construction and mining will destroy the green cover, the forests and hills that have fed us and our fathers. Thousands of hectares of nature will be destroyed if townships under 50 hectares come up,” Anna Kutty in the front row protests.

But Leela Vadakkevayil, her neighbour, is quick to resist. “Nobody has said the forests should not survive, but not at our expense. Why should the settler take it entirely on his shoulders at the cost of his livelihood. Everything that happens here is not the responsibility of the mountain people. We have participated in the Vana Samrakshana Samithi to protect the forests all these years. We have lived as one with the Ghats,” she says.

“Man is more important. What the Thamarassery Bishop said is true; if we are asked to go, it will be a Jallianwala Bagh. There is nowhere to go. We cannot go back to where we came from,” Shyamala Edannakazhy says from the middle row.

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