Syro Malabar Church plans massive stir against government over wildlife conflicts

Protest against attacks assumes political colour; KIFA for electing farmer to assembly
Image used for representational purposes.
Image used for representational purposes.Express illustrations

KOCHI: Fed up with the apathy of the forest department in ensuring the safety of high-range farmers, the Syro Malabar Church is planning to launch a massive agitation. The escalating incidence of man-animal conflict across Kerala is assuming political colour as the Church and farmers’ collectives have realised the need to get a farmer elected to the assembly.

“The government does not respond to farmers’ issues as they are not organised. Farmers cannot afford to launch a strike as their families will starve if they do not work a day. This prompts the government to ignore their demands. Every day wild elephants, tigers, bear, wild gaur and wild boars stray into farmlands and destroy crops. There has been serious dereliction of duty by forest officials, including South Wayanad DFO. The government should book the DFO for culpable homicide,” Syro Malabar Chruch synod secretary and Archbioshp of Thalassery Mar Joseph Pamplany told TNIE.

“As the rogue elephant that trampled Ajeesh was fitted with a radio collar, the forest department could track its movements. However, they failed to alert residents about its presence. To ensure justice for Ajeesh, the government should initiate action against officials who failed to act. To end the menace, it should demarcate forest boundary and erect retaining walls to stop wild elephants from straying into villages,” he said.

Pamplany said the protest will continue until the government comes out with a solution. “Though the chief minister had assured to address farmers’ concerns, nothing has been done. These circumstances have forced farmers to launch an agitation. The government has fixed the value of a human life at Rs 10 lakh. The farmers need protection for their life and property, not compensation,” he said.

The Catholic Congress, which recently took out a march from Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram seeking protection of farmers’ rights, demanded an amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act giving importance to the protection of human life. “The forest department should stop capturing and releasing elephants that stray into human habitations regularly. Such elephants should be tamed and used as kumkis. The government should ensure forest department staff stay on fringes of forests. The Rapid Response Team should be permanently deployed in areas where wild animals stray into human habitations regularly,” said Catholic Congress global director Fr Philip Kaviyil.

Kerala Independent Farmers’ Association (KIFA) chairman Alex Ozhukayil said farmers need to have their own representative in the legislature to ensure their voice is heard. “If the minister and MLAs continue to ignore farmers’ cause, we will have to think about fielding our own candidate. The government should fix the responsibility on forest officials for the loss of lives in wild animal attacks. Karnataka captured and radio-collared 27 wild elephants from Sakhleshpur in Hassan due to increased human casualty. These elephants have been released in Bandipur forest close to Kerala border and more elephants may stray into the human habitations in Wayanad,” he said.

He said KIFA will release a charter of 20 demands on Thursday. “We will vote only for candidates who assure to implement these demands in the poll manifesto,” said Alex.

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