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Forests ministry raises fresh storm in India's Kerala state.

Thiruvananthapuram: Just when the ruling United Democratic Front in Kerala was hoping to turn around its image in the Idukki constituency with regard to an ecology report that has put local people in panic, a note from the Federal Ministry of Environment and Forests to the National Green Tribunal has undone its efforts. The ministry informed the tribunal on Monday that its original directive issued on November 13, 2013 with regard to the Kasturirangan report recommendations would stand.

Following widespread fears that farmers and residents in the 123 villages notified as ecologically sensitive would be moved off their land, a draft memorandum had been issued by the federal ministry after the November 13 directive, apparently to assuage feelings of the people.

However, Monday's clarification means that it is quite likely that the original recommendations of the Kasturirangan report will stand when the report is finalised.

The ecology report is aimed at preserving the environment in the Western Ghats which runs through six states. However, Kerala has been the most vocal in demanding that many of the recommendations be scrapped, fearing that it would put restrictions on the livelihoods of local people.

The political developments in the wake of the Kasturirangan report had a major impact even on deciding the respective candidates of the two fronts in the Idukki constituency.

The Congress decided to strategically remove sitting MP, P.T. Thomas and field Youth Congress president, Dean Kuriakose in Idukki. Thomas had fallen foul of Idukki bishop Mathew Anikuzhikkattil on the Kasturirangan issue and the UDF feared this would go against his poll prospects.

The Left Democratic Front seized the opportunity, backing Joyce George, the candidate put up by the High Range Action Committee, which is fighting the Kasturirangan recommendations. The church is also seen to be backing George.

The ruling UDF put in a last-gasp effort to appease the Idukki electorate by ensuring that a draft memorandum was brought out by the federal ministry of environment and forest. However, Monday's submission by the ministry means that the local populace in Idukki feels betrayed.

Speaking on the issue, Sebastian Kochupura, a priest said the recommendations of the Kasturirangan report were "decided without the people's knowledge, and without consulting them". He said the state government had not shown "true commitment" in protecting the local people's interests.

Congress leader Joseph Vazhakkan said Kochupura's allegation that the Congress had not shown commitment was untrue, adding that the Left was misleading people about its ability to reverse the Kasturirangan report recommendations.

"The Communist party is becoming insignificant. How can such a party with hardly a few seats in the country get the report reversed?," he asked.

Political observers said wat is getting increasingly difficult for the Congress to retain the Idukki seat in view of the ecology report's reverberations.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Mar 25, 2014
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