A day after widespread unrest and incidents of arson, life in the rural areas in the district especially from Thamarassery to Adivaram still remained paralysed on Saturday.
Vehicular movement between the 20 km stretch on the NH 212 was negligible. Only two-wheelers and rarely private cars were seen on this route. A dawn-to-dusk hartal observed in Wayanad district on Saturday in protest against the K. Kasturirangan panel report on the Western Ghats ecology might have had an impact.
The smell of burnt tyres pervades the 6-km route from Adivaram to Engapuzha. Stones were piled up at many places. Concrete posts of the Kerala State Electricity Board were placed across the road. Pits were dug up at some points and filled with debris. An uprooted tree also found at a junction.
The burned remains of a KSRTC bus and a police jeep were still on the highway. Majority of the shops also remained closed except in Engapuzha.
“You will not be allowed to go beyond Engapuzha. It is better you return,” a local resident at Thamarassery, told this correspondent, who was on a motorbike.
No police presence
By morning itself, news spread that mediapersons would be barred from entering the region. On Friday, journalists were assaulted and their vehicles stoned. Strangely, there was no police presence on the route.
Role of sand lobby
Jaison K. Abraham, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Thamarassery, told The Hindu that the sand mafia especially involved in the mining and sale of weathered sand, a specialty in the region, could be behind the rioting.
The involvement of a recently formed political party affiliated to a fundamentalist outfit is being probed, he said.
The Kasturirangan panel notifications had identified some ecologically sensitive areas in the district. Some of these were Kadavoor, Puthuppadi, Nellipoyil, Kodencherry, Thiruvambady, Chembanad, Thrikettapetta, Thinoor and Kavilumpara. That means mining, quarrying, construction of thermal plants and high-rise buildings will be totally banned here.
Mr. Abraham said that the police had been caught unawares on Friday afternoon.
“The force was trapped in Adivaram. Stones and torched petrol-filled bottles were thrown at us from all sides. We have to fire four rounds to disperse the agitated mob. It was a do-or-die battle. If the mob failed to disband, the police would have no choice, but to fire at them,” he recollected.
More than 40 persons including a large number of policemen were injured in the rioting. “One of the police buses was used to transport the injured personnel. Our helmets and riot shields were useless to deal with the pelting protesters, ” said K.P. Muhammed Shafeeque of the Armed Reserve Police.
The agitation by the farmers ended in the afternoon. But that did not stop some of them setting ablaze the forest office and the vehicles parked inside the compound at Thamarassery. Important files pertaining to investigations in the encroachment of pristine forest land were gutted.
However, Mr. Abraham said that hired gangs brought in tipper lorries from different parts took over the protest in the afternoon. “They soon began to pour into the highway. It seemed that the agitation had been well-planned as the police had been taking stern action against the illegal sand-miners operating at Adivaram, Engapuzha and Kaithapoyil, he said.