Kerala archbishop stands with farmers against evictions from eco-sensitive areas
by Nirmala Carvalho

Archbishop Pamplany joined a protest against a Supreme Court order that risks evicting 1.2 million people from land bordering protected forests in Kerala. “Today, the irony is that snakes and wild boars have protection, not human beings,” he said.

Kannur (AsiaNews) – Archbishop Mar Joseph Pamplany of Thalassery joined a protest by farmers in Cherupuzha, Kannur district, last Tuesday against a directive issued by India's Supreme Court on 3 June to establish a one-kilometre-wide eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) around protected forests, wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.

Over the past two weeks, farmers in Kerala's mountainous areas have staged various forms of protest urging the Union (federal) and state governments to seek legal remedies to exclude human habitation from these protected areas. They fear that the ruling will lead to mass evictions from farmland located in buffer zones.

Kerala's population density is about 360 people per square kilometre, three times the national average. It is expected that the state will be among the most affected if the order is implemented.

As a show of solidarity with farmers, the archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church also sported a cap made of areca walnut leaves, traditionally worn by farmers to protect themselves from the sun and rain while working in the fields.

Archbishop Pamplany slammed the Supreme Court’s decision because it would lead to the eviction of 1.2 million farmers in Kerala. In his view, the order “threatens to divide the State”; instead, “everyone should work together forgetting political, caste and religious differences”.

Addressing the farmers, the prelate noted that the Church has no option but to support them at a time when they risk losing their livelihoods.

“Today, the irony is that snakes and wild boars have protection, but not human beings,” he said. “The government has never cared about farmers. We will not allow the government to come to the fields with this initiative.”

In a statement issued on 9 June, Cardinal George Allencherry, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabars, had also expressed concern over the order and its impact in Kerala.

“Environment protection has always been the policy of the Church,” he said. “But imposing the entire burden of environmental protection on those living in regions bordering the forest is unfair.”