Ghats stir: Kerala missing the wood for the trees

Ghats stir: Kerala missing the wood for the trees

Birla Group’s pulp factory in Kozhikode was closed down due to years of agitation.

The draft recommendations of the Kasturirangan report on the Western Ghats have triggered a protest in areas of Kerala where prohibitory and regulatory steps are proposed. Syrian Catholics,who had migrated to these areas half a century back from Central Kerala,form a major chunk of farmers in the villages in the Western Ghats. In the recent decade,Muslims have invested their Gulf money in the hills mainly for real estate and commercial purposes.

Hence,in these communities seeing red,there are religious and political formulations at play. Involved are the Kerala Congress,the Indian Union Muslim League,and the CPM,all leading the protests,all with an eye on vote banks. The state government has failed to point out that a lot of the panic is due to a misinformation campaign,with the Church,political parties and media all doing their bit.

The fact is that going by the panel,the only activity that would be affected in the region is mining of sand and granite for construction. Given the region’s thousands of legal and illegal quarries,it’s no surprise that there are many quarters not too enthused by this. But those who believe that these quarries should be phased out have been held back by the fear of spiralling prices of construction material should these quarries shut. Neither the state government nor political parties or religious groups has bothered to enlighten the public on the rumours being spread: that farmers would be evicted in a phased manner; that their land would be converted into forest tracts; that houses would have to be painted green; or that land transactions would be hit. While the draft has recommended that all red-category industries be banned,there are few such industries in these 123 villages. Although the industries in the orange category too will face action,the committee has stated there will not be complete prohibition.

The irony,meanwhile,is inescapable. The first voices are being raised in a state that is known for agitations against projects bringing environmental degradation. The whiff of an industrial unit is enough to spur an average Keralite into an agitation,even a prolonged one. The Birla Group’s pulp factory in Kozhikode was closed down a decade back as a sequel to years of agitation. Kerala does not even have a thermal plant.

Shaju is a special correspondent based in Thiruvananthapuram