The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala has called for hartal on Monday (February 8) in Wayanad district to protest against the Union Environment Ministry’s draft notification on an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) around the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary.
The ESZ, inhabitants around the periphery of the forest claim, will imperil human settlements.
As a mark of protest, workers of the ruling Left Democratic Front and UDF burnt copies of the draft notification and held demonstrations in Wayanad on Thursday and Friday. The Diocese of Sultan Bathery also threatened to protest on the streets as a majority of the population in the fringe areas are Christians.
The ESZ, as per the draft notification that was published last week, will cover an area of 118.59 km, which includes 8.89 km of the Tirunelly reserve forest of north Wayanad and 17.67 km of Chedelaythu range in south Wayanad. The biodiversity-rich Wayanad wildlife sanctuary has a sizeable elephant and tiger population. However, there have been concerns over the environmental degradation of Wayanad, which is also a tourist’s haven.
“If the notification is approved, at least 30 per cent of Wayanad’s total area will come under the ESZ. Where will people go? Thousands of people will be displaced. We need forests but at the same time people should also be allowed to live,” said district Congress leader N D Appachan.
However, the state government denied Appachan’s claim that it was due to its indifference that the notification came into being.
State forest minister K Raju said there is no need for concern and that the government will study the draft notification in detail.
Wayanad district collector, Adeela Abdullah, said the final notification will be issued after several rounds of discussions and revisions.
Wayanad Prakruthi Samrakshana Samiti, a well-known group of environmentalists and nature lovers, however, have said the ESZ “will help curtail human incursions into wildlife habitat and lessen man-animal conflict and preserve endemic flora and fauna.”
According to the Union Environment Ministry, the draft will be taken up for consideration after 60 days and the public can send their comments and suggestions during this period to the secretary of the ministry.