Voters were highly misled and misinformed by the Left Democratic Front and a section of the church, say environmentalists
Joyce George, an independent candidate fielded by the Left Democratic Front (LDF), won in Kerala’s Idukki Lok Sabha constituency. He defeated the Indian National Congress candidate Dean Kuriakose by more than 50,000 votes.
“This is the victory of the farmers who settled here from other parts of Kerala and who have been working hard facing all odds. This is a mandate for their self-respect,” said a beaming Joyce George, the lawyer of the High Range Protection Council, an organisation leading the agitations against the implementation of both the Madhav Gadgil Committee and Kasturirangan Committee reports for the conservation of the Western Ghats. Conservation of the Western Ghats and the Kasturirangan Committee report on it were the main poll issues in Idukki.
Voters were highly misled and misinformed by the LDF and a section of the church. High Range Protection Council is led by some priests from the Idukki dioceses of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church (SMC). “This victory is an outcome of the continuous campaign by LDF and a section of the church that worked hand in glove against the implementation of the Gadgil and Kasturirangan reports,” says C R Neelakandan, an environmentalist.
Idukki, a Western Ghat district, has seven assembly constituencies—three at lower ranges of the hills and four at higher ranges. People in the four high range assembly constituencies, led by the High Range Protection Council, the LDF and the Church, have been protesting ever since the Union environment ministry accepted the recommendations of the high-level working group, headed by Planning Commission member K Kasturirangan, on the conservation of the Western Ghats in October last year.
The Kasturirangan committee recommends that 37 per cent of the Western Ghats, which is extremely rich in biodiversity, should be declared as eco-sensitive areas. It has also recommended banning mining, quarrying, construction of thermal power plants and highly polluting industries and construction of buildings spread over more than 0.2 hectares (ha) and townships spanning more than 50 ha inside areas identified as ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs).
Of the 123 villages identified by the committee as ESAs, 48 are in Idukki. People living here are misled and misinformed by the LDF and the High Range Protection Council about the Western Ghats conservation and the two reports. They fear that conservation of the Western Ghats will affect their daily lives, livelihood and ownership rights on their property, and finally they would be evicted from the region. Since October last year there have been many shut-downs and hartals in the district.
In the wake of strong protests, the Indian National Congress had denied a ticket to P T Thomas, who had won the constituency in 2009 by more than 75,000 votes and who was known as one of the best performing MPs in the state. He was the only political leader in Idukki who took a clear and bold stand regarding conservation of the Western Ghats. Instead of Thomas, the party has fielded debutant Dean Kuriakose, the state Youth Congress president from Idukki. The party took the decision to change the candidate under the pressure from the church.
Both LDF and UDF were trying hard to convince people about their commitments and efforts for protecting the interests of the people living in the ESA villages. Interestingly, the Kerala Congress(M), which is an ally of the Congress in the ruling UDF, too came out against the conservation reports and extended its support to Joyce George. Apart from the displeasure of the church towards the Congress at the Centre for notifying the Kasturirangan report, this too contributed Dean Kuriakose's failure.
When Down To Earth contacted P T Thomas at the time of the party’s dropping him from the candidates list, he had said that people in the constituency were highly misled. The Indian National Congress and the CPI(M), the main parties leading the two political fronts in the state, never really bothered to explain the truth to people who succumb to all kinds of lobbies.
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