Thiruvananthapuram: After days of sporadic violence across Kerala over the federal government’s decision to declare large tracts of the Western Ghats as ecologically fragile, the state was brought to a standstill today by a shutdown called by the opposition Left Democratic Front to protest the federal government’s move.
Fears have been stoked in the state by recommendations of the Kasturirangan report which seeks to protect the Western Ghats. A part of the ghats runs through different districts of Kerala.
Much of the apprehension is with regard to possible eviction of people from the areas mentioned in the Kasturirangan report, though the authorities have assured that the lives of ordinary people and farmers in the area will not be affected.
Federal environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan attempted to dispel fears over the Kasturirangan report implementation, but that did not stop the LDF from going ahead with a hartal. Minor incidents of violence was reported from different parts of the state. Uncharacteristically, a vehicle in which tourists were travelling was stopped by hartal supporters in Idukki district, and stones were thrown at a vehicle in Kochi carrying pilgrims to the Sabarimala temple.
Chief minister Oommen Chandy said the LDF’s decision to hold a strike was regrettable, and pointed out that Communist Party of India Marxist state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan had in fact given him a letter in which he had requested that the Kasturirangan report should be implemented after taking the people into confidence. “This demand is agreeable to the state and federal governments, so what is the need for a hartal?”, Chandy asked.
The protests are most acute in Idukki, where a 48-hour road blockade is underway to protest implementation of the Kasturirangan report. The blockade was launched at the central junction in Kattapana at midnight on Sunday.
Even as protests are snowballing over the Kasturirangan report in Kerala, a parallel warfront has been opened up between senior Congress leader and member of parliament, P T Thomas and the Idukki bishop Mathew Anikuzhikkattil.
Thomas said anyone who critically analysed the Kasturirangan report would not object to its recommendations, adding that the priests who were engaging in protests against the report had a political agenda. The MP said he would complain about the bishop to the cardinal.
Anikuzhikkattil, who had earlier described Thomas as a “failed politician”, retorted that he would lead a life of rest if action was taken by church authorities based on Thomas’ complaint.
The Thamarassery diocese of the Syro Malabar Church has also been in the forefront of agitations against the Kasturirangan report. In a circular read in the churches of the diocese on Sunday, the church warned the government against implementing the report, and has proposed a major public rally on November 21.
Syro-Malabar major archbishop and cardinal George Alancherry said there was concern among people that though no one would be evicted from the ecologically fragile lands, the new set of laws for the region would effectively force people out of their lands.