Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Kanyakumari Memes
The residents of 17 villages in Kanyakumari district rose in anger against the proposed Eco Sensitive Zone (ESZ) in the public hearing held by the district administration on Thursday, September 12. The ESZ proposal is in continuation with the planned Kanyakumari wildlife sanctuary in the district. The proposed move is set to affect lakhs of residents since the district is densely populated.
The participants of the public hearing insisted on conducting separate hearings in all the 17 villages notified as ESZ.
Will listen to the Apprehensions of Residents
The meeting was attended by representatives of major political parties and the residents of the villages notified as ESZ. The District Forest Officer (DFO) S Anand while addressing the meeting said that the draft will be submitted to the union government after the opinion of all the stake holders are taken into consideration.
“There will be a ban on the quarrying, construction of chemical industries and discharge of effluents in the ESZ,” he added.
Over 40,000 ha Announced as Sanctuary
The district which is the second smallest in the state is also one of the most densely populated. The district is third next only to Nilgris and Dharmapuri in terms of highest forest cover out of the total land area. The announcement of wildlife sanctuary in the year 2002 came as a shock for most of the forest dwellers. An area of 45,777 hectares was initially notified as sanctuary. After severe opposition the Kani tribal settlements, the approach roads and the areas leased to Arasu Rubber Corporation were exempted and a revised area of 40,239.55 hectare were announced. This amounts to around 30% of the area of the district.
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This will deny access to the thousands of people who depend on the forest products for their living. Also, the people who own land within the notified area cannot buy or sell their lands.
CPI(M), TNTA Oppose Announcement
The district secretary of Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)], R Chellaswamy told NewsClick, “It is important to preserve the nature and wild animals, but the interest of the people living in the forest area must be considered while doing so. Already the people of the district are severely affected by the preservation of Private Forests Act and now this announcement of the ESZ will further aggravate their problems.”
The district president of the Tamil Nadu Tribals’ Association (TNTA) said, “This is not the proper way to conduct a public hearing. Most of the affected villages are far away from Nagercoil where the hearing is conducted. We insist separate hearings must be held in all the 17 villages announced by the district administration. The wild animals are damaging the agricultural lands of the small and marginal farmers and there are no constructive steps to prevent it.”
Tribal Welfare Will be Affected
The tribal people of the district are set to be the biggest losers of the proposed ESZ. “Even now the Kani tribal settlements are lacking the basic amenities like electricity, drinking water facilities, healthcare, education and proper road facilities. There is no guaranteed minimum price for the forest products. The land entitled for the forest dwellers have not been allotted to them as per the Forest Rights Act, 2006,” added Chellaswamy.
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The notification has listed several regulatory measures for the felling of trees, collection of forest produce and digging of bore wells for agricultural purposes among many others. The residents of the notified villages fear that the regulations will effectively deny the right to these activities which they have been continuing for generations.
No Rights will be Denied
DFO S Anand while speaking to NewsClick, said, “The notification clearly lists out the banned and regulatory measures in the ESZ. The public need not panic by the announcement of the ESZ since their rights will not be denied. The move is only to protect the ecosystem existing in the district. Only seven activities are banned in the proposed area whereas many other activities are purely regulatory.”
“The ESZ notified areas are at 0 km limit in most parts of the district. Only in two places it extends upto 3 kms, which are not highly populated,” he added.
Residents Apprehensive of Regulations
But a resident from one of the notified villages said, “We are highly apprehensive of the promises made by the governments as well as the officials. The union and state governments acted against their promises on the Private Forests Act. We were promised exemption from the act since many of the villages adjacent to the Western Ghats were covered under the act. The promises were not kept and even today we are unable to move freely in those lands.”
Another farmer said, “The administration brought in two tigers to the reserve forest area before the area was announced as tiger reserve even though we had raised questions on the move. Such is the track record of the administration. How can we trust the words of this administration?”
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The participants also demanded that the notification should be translated in vernacular and circulated to all the villages through the village administrative offices to understand and clarify the apprehensions of the people.
The ESZ move is alleged to have an adverse impact on the livelihood of the residents close to the foot hills of the Western Ghats. The farmers of these areas are already victims of man – animal conflicts and accuse the administration of taking no action to address the issue. The announcement of the wild life sanctuary and the ESZ will further intensify the day to day struggle of the residents of the villages as they stand to lose their right to access of lands in the name of regulations.