Keezhattoor Vayalakilikal’s Struggle has been going for more than a year now to protect their Paddy fields and precious drinking water, in a state where fertile land is fast declining due to rapid urbanization and infrastructure development. They have been protesting acquisition of 250 acres of fertile paddy fields for National Highway 66. The struggle has remained peaceful and non-violent even in face of violent attack by ruling party cadres and state repression.
The movement has even proposed alternative alignment for the highway prepared by Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad to avoid environmental destruction, but the Union Surface Transport Ministry led by Shri Nitin Gadkari has refused to heed to this. It is unfortunate that Kerala government is also siding with the Union government on this issue and is not siding with the movement to press for change of the alignment.
Kerala had an estimated 9 lakh hectares of land for paddy cultivation 40 years ago and today it has come to 1.75 lakh hectares, where as the population has increased several fold now. It was due to the persistent demand and agitation of agricultural labourers and environmentalists that the Kerala Government passed an Act for the protection of paddy fields and wetlands in 2008. However, till date required rules have not been framed, because of lack of political will. This has led to complete non-compliance with various provisions. On the other hand, government has bought in an ordinance and relaxed the provisions for filling up paddy fields, to facilitate so called ‘development projects’.
It was on January 9 that the Kerala Paddy Land and Wetland Conservation Act, 2008, was amended, bringing stringent provisions for conservation of paddy fields and to ensure the paddy fields are used only for agricultural purposes. Green activists say a hectare of wetland can hold 10 lakh litres of water and the protection of these wetlands is crucial in conserving the ecosystem. There are around 217 wetland areas in Kerala and they account for about 20 per cent of the total land area. It is estimated that around 30 per cent of the wetlands and paddy fields in Kerala have been destroyed over the past three decades. This has led to climatic changes and the state’s average temperature has shot up from 34 degree Celsius to 36 degree Celsius. The state’s water table has gone down by around four metres in recent years.