Mar Remegiose Inchananiyil, the Bishop of Thamarassery diocese in Kozhikode, Kerala, made headlines a few days ago when he told a public meeting there would be another 'Jallianwala Bagh' in the foothills of the Western Ghats if the K Kasturirangan committee report is implemented. The bishop was speaking for the farmers who live on the foothills of the region who fear eviction.
The bishop spoke to Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier in a telephone interview from Kozhikode on the plight of the farmers and why he has taken up the issue.
Why did you say if the Kasturirangan report is implemented, there will be a Jallianwala Bagh in that region?
Those who make hue and cry about the word Jallianwala Bagh should try to understand what it is. It symbolises the struggle of the people of India to win independence. The British who ruled us shot at the Indians there and many lost their lives.
Similarly, the government is trying to encroach upon the freedom of the poor people who live in the foothills of the Western Ghats.
What I said was, when the government tries to torture us, we also would fall dead on the soil.
Do you say the government is torturing the people of this region?
We expect it to happen soon.
You mean, so far nobody has tortured the people?
No. So far, nothing of that sort has happened.
What we feel is, if they try to implement the Kasturirangan Committee report, there will be bloodshed here. The torture may not be from guns, but using laws and rules.
You may not see real blood, but people may have to die in another way. What I said has to be taken as symbolic; like instead of guns what we see today are laws to defeat and kill people.
In what way, will the people of the region get affected if the report is implemented?
You have to read between the lines to understand how the poor people would get affected.
If the land has 30 percent slope, we are not supposed to farm tapioca, yam, etc which is our food and livelihood, as it may result in soil erosion.
We are all poor farmers who own only 15 to 20 to 50 cents (100 cents = 1 acre) of land. Some of them are even labourers.
When the report says we are not to cultivate what we need, our livelihood is going to get affected. Is this not torture?
The report also says there should be rotation of crops and rubber, cocoa, coconut etc should not be cultivated. How can you instruct us not to cultivate rubber, coconut, etc which is again our livelihood?
They want us to cultivate bamboo, but it doesn't say how a poor farmer can earn a livelihood with bamboo in his farm land.
What do you say about the argument that this area was encroached upon once upon a time and it has to be returned to nature?
Is there anyone in Kerala who has not encroached upon land at all?
All the people of Kerala are encroachers as there was no land here; only forest. I would answer the argument if someone answered my question correctly.
It was when Pattom Thanu Pillai was the chief minister (1960 to 1962) that the forest was opened to people, and the government asked people to go to the forest and farm.
There are many areas in the forest which was given free to people. That was how people from the plains moved to the hilly areas.
Both the Madhav Gadgil and Kasturirangan Committees were set up with the intention to save one of the most important areas in India's landscape, the Western Ghats. Are you against saving our environment?
If you can show us where we are destroying nature and not saving the environment, we are ready to accept all that has been written in the report.
Tell me, are these farmers destroying nature or saving it by cultivating every inch of land?
We plant trees like rubber, coconut, cocoa, and do you call this destroying nature?
You spoke about climate change. If you can get hold of some of the reports written in the 1970s, it was written that this region would witness extreme cold. Do we experience extreme cold here?
Nature or environment is not restricted to this region alone, and this is only a small area when you look at earth as a whole. Moreover, God knows how to save nature.
I have a question to all those who are clamouring for saving the environment. There are 25,000 aeroplanes at a time in this atmosphere. How much carbon do these planes emit? Are these planes not polluting the atmosphere? Why are you not talking about it?
Can you compare the kind of destruction the planes cause and what the poor farmers are causing in the hills? Have you ever talked about restricting the number of flights in the atmosphere?
These farmers are not abusing nature; they are taking care of it and protecting it. By evicting the farmers, the Western Ghats is not going to be protected.
Both the reports don't talk about evicting any farmer from the region...
It is true that both the reports don't talk about evicting farmers but the truth is, that is what is going to happen.
,p>Indirectly, the report is going to end up evicting the poor farmers, and it will happen slowly.
Why do you say so?
One example is, people living there have no authority to repair the roads and they have to get the permission from the forest authorities. In the heavy monsoon, all the roads in the hilly areas get washed away.
Without roads, how are these people expected to live there or take their produce out of the area? When there are no roads, they will slowly move out of the area.
Most of these areas are marked as ESA (Ecologically Sensitive Area) and this will be there in the land registration papers also.
When an area is marked as ESA, the value goes down, and when there is less value, it is difficult to get a loan from a bank for cultivation. This will also prompt them to get out of the area slowly.
If they cultivate bamboo, the area will soon turn out to be like a jungle which will result in animals coming down and slowly evicting people from the area.
I have many more examples to show that there will be indirect eviction of poor farmers.
This area in the Kozhikode, Malappuram districts (Kakkadam poyil) used to have 600 people living here, but now, there are only 50 here.
In Vendekkum poyil, there were 250 families living 20 years ago but today, there are only 100 families.
The Western Ghats are spread over six states -- Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala -- but it is only in the areas belonging to Kerala that we see protests against the Kasturirangan report. Why is it so?
All the 121 villages in Idukki, Palakkad, Kozhikode and Wayanad districts are protesting against the report. It is true that the protests are strong in our areas. That is because more people live here.
We don't hear about any protest from other states...
That is all because of the inefficiency of our politicians. We had pointed out what was needed, but our politicians didn't take care.
Union Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan took care of the villages in Tamil Nadu. She saw to it that if there were 100 villagers in an area, they were not included in the ESA list.
There were 600 villages in the ESA list of the Gagdil report, but Kasturirangan included only 123 villages. The rest of the villages were excluded because of the influence of some politicians and other influential people.
I will tell you how unscientific the marking was. In Vilangad village, there is a river running through the village. The left side of the river is not marked as ESA, but the right side is. Is this scientific?
Many say the protests in Kerala are instigated by some politicians with the Lok Sabha election in mind...
That is not correct. But when the elections come, this will be a major issue in this region.
What is the solution to this problem?
What the authorities have to do is stop mining and quarrying, and not trouble the poor farmers. They should exclude the areas where farmers live cultivating land.
But the report talks against sand mining and quarrying in the Western Ghats. In fact, that was why there were a lot of protests in Goa when the Gadgil committee report was out.
We have always been against mining and quarrying. There are laws against mining, yet it continues unabashedly as nobody wants to enforce the law. You need not bring any new law to stop this; you have to only implement the old laws.
Another criticism from the environmentalists is that most of those who protest have not read the full report, and that was why the protest. What do you say to this allegation?
I don't know about others, but I have read the full report and understand the implications.
How did the church get involved in this issue?
We do not represent the church alone; we represent the people of this region. These farmers do not look at us as a bishop or as a priest; we are a part of them.
When they found that politicians have betrayed them, they had to take the help of others. That was how they came to us.
When they said, 'Bishop, please help us,' can I wriggle out saying, let the politicians do the work? It's my duty. We are social workers committed to taking care of each and every person of this region.
People have reacted quite aggressively to this issue by bringing in Jallianwala Bagh and also saying, 'There will be another Kashmir here...'
'Jallianwala Bagh,' according to me, is not aggressive but something to be proud of. When we say there will be another Kashmir here, we don't mean, there would be terrorism here.
How is Kashmir treated by the Indian government? People of the state are given everything and it is a special zone. Similarly, this region also will have to be something special.
Let me tell you: We are all Gandhians. We live a simple life advocated by him. I am a vegetarian. I don't even kill the snake or spider or cockroach or rat that enters my room. I am such a peace-loving person that you cannot say that I have taken an aggressive stand.
When I said, people would fall down dead, you cannot interpret it as there would be bloodshed here!
Do you feel the environmentalists are deaf to the problems people face?
Of course, all of us feel that way. Why is it that a 500-page report does not even talk about the resettlement of those poor farmers who live in the foothills?
My question is, do only the people living in the hills have the duty to protect the environment? Why are the activists not talking about the 25,000 flights in the sky?
Image: Bishop Mar Remegiose Inchananiyil leads a protest-fast against the implementation of the Kasturirangan panel report.