Thursday, March 7, 2013

Heritage Village Gears Up Against Airport Project

Land of the boat races in central Kerala Aranmula is heading for a show down. Representatives of political parties of all spectrums, social and environmental organizations assembled at the ancestral home of Sugathakumari, poet-activist, and pledged to resist every move that a proposed airport makes to endanger the place. We are willing to give our lives for this cause, she said, to the applause of those present. The Rs. 2000 crore project being proposed for an international airport close to the famous Parthasarathy temple at Aranmula is facing stiff resistance. This region on the banks of the river Pampa is home to a unique culture of boat races, Vanchi Pattu, arts and crafts.

The ornamental boats that are used to promote tourism in Kerala and India as picture post cards come from Aranmula. The color and gaiety of Vallam Kali, boat race, at the temple village, its traditions of Valla Sadya, feast with singing, performing arts like Kathakali, crafts like Aranmula Kannadi, a metal mirror, are celebrated across the world and large number of tourists come to Aranmula. It is a region with fertile wet lands, once the rice bowl of Kerala. It is these wetlands, fragile ecosystems, that began to be filled by the private airport project. What threatens the very existence of the temple village.

Speaking at the meet conducted in the shades of the family Sacred Grove of Mezhuvelil Tharavadu, political leaders, leading environmentalists, other eminent persons reviewed the general scenario in Kerala which is facing an onslaught on its apex nature. Leaders of political parties, from Mullakkara Ratnakaran, former Minister and Communist leader, to senior Sangh Parivar leaders made it certain that further attacks on native ecosystem and culture shall not be forgiven. The private airport company and the state and central governments that are in league with the company came in for severe criticism. This is a fight for earth, air and water, the holistic culture that nurtures it, said Sugathakumari.

Those trying to destroy it are people’s enemies, she added. Despite the water tables falling alarmingly and drinking water shortages becoming rampant in a state once with plentiful water the state government supporting a mega project that destroy watersheds is an irony, she added. What the people shall not forgive. The struggle will spread across the paddy fields in Kerala, said Mullakkara Ratnakaran. Aranmula struggle is to change the history of Kerala and the present passive resistance may change its tone, he added.

 Dr. V S Vijayan, former Chairman of the state Biodiversity Board, wanted the youth of Kerala to come and take over the responsibility, we elders are ready to give up the lives to protect this life giving nature handed down to us by our past generations, but there should be young  hands to take over, he said.  State leaders of the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), NGO leaders and others took part in the meeting and elected Sugathakumari to take over the leadership of the movement. It was decided to link up with all grass roots movements across the state and defeat the eco-criminals who endanger the survival systems.

It was decided to have a state level meet at Thiruvananthapuram and launch a mass movement to save the ecology of Kerala and the culture that sustained it for generations. Patron of the Paithruka Grama Karma Samithy Kummanam Rajasekharan, spear heading the agitation, P Induchoodan, President of the  Palliyoda Samrakshana Samithy, the organization representing the boat owning villages spread over the Aranmula region, P B Suresh dalit leader of the KPMS, State leaders of various political parties like A Padmakumar,  , former MLA and CPM leader,K Surendran, State Secretary of the BJP, Thomas Joseph, of the RSP,  were among the leaders of political parties. Senior leaders of the Hindu organizations like the Pranth Karyavah of the RSS Gopalan Kutty, leaders of Ayyappa Seva Sangh and assorted organizations attended the meeting. The meeting pledged that they shall resist any attempt to fill the watersheds of holy Pampa river and that not a speck of earth shall be filled at the wet land site.            

The whole team assembled at Aranmula also visited the wetland area filled by the company which a group of landless agriculture laborers have occupied. The area was taken over by the landless who got displaced from their lands, agricultural lands became real estate, NRI remittances made land prices soar and ended up becoming real estate. The new airport project comes from that series and large scale river sand mining, quarrying and other anti-natural activities have damaged Kerala ecosystem irreversibly. There are agitations across the state where the government and the neo-rich groups are hand in glove association and the representatives of these organizations were also present at the Aranmula meeting.

A company called KGS Group is in the fray at Aranmula whose underhand deals in manipulating the government and bypassing the laws of the land have become notorious. The company managed to get the private airport project included in the address of the President of India at the Indian Parliament in Delhi so that they can bypass the lower level law implementing agencies and in this some senior officers from the locality and working at Delhi were instrumental. With the Aranmula meet irony of a region that was striving to become a global heritage site getting threatened by a small airport company is entering  another phase, it could also be a new beginning for Kerala.

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