To avoid environmental destruction, alternative proposals for the bypass have been suggested including the ones put forth by KSSP after detailed study. An elevated highway from Chiravakku to Thrichambaram in the town can contain the traffic congestion that may arise in future and there is really no need to construct an alignment destroying precious water resources. The average width of the paddy field through which the bypass road is proposed is only 80 meters. The area is surrounded by hills on all sides. Owing to the peculiarities of the geographical location of the area in question, the building of a 45-meter-wide road will culminate in the destruction of the entire 250 acres of paddy field cum wetland, not only the exact area where the road stands.
Kerala had 9 lakh hectares of land for paddy cultivation 40 years ago. Now it has been reduced to just 1.75 lakh hectares. It was due to the persistent demand and agitation of agricultural labourers and environmentalists that the Kerala Legislature passed a bill for the protection of paddy fields and wetlands in 2008.Governments have delayed framing required rules related to the provisions in the bill, and have not complied with the provisions to create data banks. But recently, through an ordinance that is valid now, the Government has relaxed the provisions for filling up paddy fields, to facilitate so called ‘development projects.
Several struggles have been going on throughout Kerala for the past 10 years against evacuation of lakhs of people for acquisition of additional land to provide 45 metre width to the NH and against the conversion of NH into BOT projects. In Kerala, people have demanded that NH should be expanded to six-line traffic in a width of 30 metres, taking into account the density of population and the alarming increase in number of vehicles.
In response to the hunger strike of the ‘vayalkkilis’ against the project to build a bypass road through Keezhattoor, the PWD minister convened a meeting and assured that the proposed alignment would be re-examined. However, the government has not kept its promise. Therefore the Vayalkkilis resumed their struggle on 18th February 2018, this time by starting the ‘Vayal Kaavalsamaram (agitation for guarding the field) .On 14th March, the police and CPI(M) party workers cordoned off the site and forcefully facilitated surveying the area. The Police arrested 49 volunteers who objected to the survey and took them to the Taliparamba Police station. After that, threatening media personnel present there, CPM activists set fire to the pandal (temporary shed) where the non -violent satyagraha was going on.
This was a high handed and unwarranted intervention from party workers, which has attracted sharp criticism from several quarters. The Police simply remained silent spectators of the arson. Attempts are being made by party workers to coerce the landowners to give written consent to forego their land for the project. An atmosphere of terror is being created to prevent people coming to the area to express solidarity with the struggle. The CPI(M), which has been organizing farmers to struggle against injustice in other parts of India, have adopted in Kerala a different approach of forcefully acquiring farmer’s land, willing to go to any extent in order to facilitate filling of paddy lands for big projects, against their own stated policy objectives .
The Aikyadaardya Samithi in support of the struggle has decided to conduct a people march from Taliparamba town to the proposed site at Keezhattoor at 2 PM on 25 th March 2018, demanding to rebuild the shed and to scrap the proposed alignment of NH through Keezhattoor. We solicit your support in pressurizing the government to desist from destroying paddy fields on a large scale anymore in Kerala for implementing projects and in convincing the central leadership of the CPI (M) about the situation in Kerala, and in bringing victory to the ongoing struggle. Kindly come to Keezhattoor on 25th March. If at all you find it impossible to turn up on that day, please express your solidarity with this struggle by a message, statement, a hash tag or any other means you deem fit.
(Statement issued by Suresh Kezhatoor and N. Janaki Amma on behalf of ‘Vayalkkilikal’)
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