The shutdown called by the Congress-led United Democratic Front against the Union Environment Ministry’s draft notification on the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) crippled normal life in Wayanad (north Kerala) district on Monday even as chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan rushed a letter to the Prime Minister requesting him to reconsider the draft.
Life came to a standstill in the district as shops, business establishments and offices remained closed and vehicles kept off the roads. The UDF said it will strengthen the stir if the draft notification was not withdrawn immediately. The agitation was peaceful. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi represents the parliamentary constituency.
The issue also figured in Parliament and Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar assured members from the state that the government will take a final decision only after consulting all concerned including the state government. He said the ministry had released a draft after examining many reports including that of the state government.
In the letter to PM Modi, the CM said declaring 118.59 sq km around the Wayanad wildlife sanctuary as ESZ will displace many families living in fringe areas of forests. He wanted the ministry to amend the draft and exclude some of the densely-populated hamlets.
People living in fringe areas of the forest say many human settlements will come under the zone and the new announcement will cripple their lives. Last week workers of the ruling Left Democratic Front and UDF had burnt copies of the draft notification and staged demonstrations. The Diocese of Sultan Bathery also threatened to hit the streets, where a majority of people living in notified areas are Christians.
According to the draft notification published by the ministry last week, the ESZ will cover an area of 118.59 km which includes 8.89 km of Tirunelly reserve forest of north Wayanad and 17.67 km of the Chedelaythu range in south Wayanad. Rich in biodiversity, the 344 sq km Wayanad wildlife sanctuary is a favourite habitat of elephants and tigers. Green activists have been questioning the fast depleting canopy of Wayanad, also a favourite get-away of tourists.