The LDF government’s strategy of directing the anger of the state’s farmers against the June 3 Supreme Court order declaring Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZ) of 1 kilometre from the boundaries of protected forests, to the Centre, instead of rolling back its own 2019 Cabinet decision to the same effect, seems to have backfired, after its student wing SFI vandalised Rahul Gandhi’s Wayanad office Friday.
The attack sparked widespread protests from the Congress in all districts. While the ruling CPM distanced itself from the actions of its student wing, the damage was done.
Congress leader V D Satheesan accused the CPM of joining hands with the BJP to target Rahul. “Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wants to please Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Sangh Parivar. Modi wants to chase away Rahul Gandhi from Wayanad and this task has been taken over by Vijayan. The attack was staged with the connivance of the CPM,” he said.
The SFI men were protesting “inaction” on Rahul’s part to allay people’s fears regarding the order, which is expected to affect his constituency of Wayanad.
Satheesan said the CPM plan to pass the buck was obvious. “The SFI should have marched to the office of Vijayan. The real culprits in the issue are the Chief Minister and his Cabinet. The government’s stand on the issue is mysterious.”
Both the Congress and CPM have held several hartals and protests against the SC order, backing farmers and demanding that human settlements be kept out of the declared eco-sensitive zones. The CPM Government has now decided to file a modification petition before the Supreme Court against its June 3 directive.
However, the LDF government’s own record in the matter is clouded. In 2019, the previous Cabinet led by Vijayan had decided to declare 1 km area around protected forests as an ESZ and communicated the same to the Union Government.
Rahul has also stolen a lead on the emotive issue. On June 23, he wrote to the PM and CM saying: “The state and Union governments can help by requesting dilution of the minimum width of an ESZ,” referring to the Supreme Court’s suggestion in its directive that “the minimum width of the ESZ may be diluted in overwhelming public interest but for that purpose the State or Union Territory concerned shall approach the Central Empowered Committee and Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change”.
The Catholic Church has also joined the protest as a large number of Christian families are settled in the agricultural belt of the state’s Western Ghats. On Wednesday, at a protest march in Kannur, Thalassery Archbishop Joseph Pamplany, said: “We don’t want to hear the confessions of the state government. We don’t want a government that has neglected the farmers. They have jettisoned us.’’
Earlier too, the CPM has tried to use the issue for political gains.
In 2013-2014, the state had witnessed violent protests against the Kasturirangan report on the Western Ghats, which recommended that 123 villages in the state be declared eco-sensitive zones. The CPM, which was the Opposition at the time, had then played second-in-command to the Church-led agitation in Idukki district.
It had eventually backed Joice George, the Church’s nominee, as the LDF candidate Idukki for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. George had won the seat, a Congress stronghold, riding on the farmer sentiments.
The attack on Rahul’s office will thus not be welcomed by the CPM, which would be keen to not draw too much attention to its own role in the matter. The Church itself is being assiduously wooed by the CPM, which is looking to wean away the Congress minority base.
The June 3 Supreme Court order was based on a PIL relating to a buffer zone for forest lands in Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu. The three-judge Bench ruled that the buffer zone ruling be binding for all forest tracts in the country. Due to the high density of human population near the notified protected areas, farmer’s groups and political parties have been demanding that human settlements should be exempt from the ESZ ruling.
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