By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It is a significant victory for Vayalkkilikal, a collective of residents of Keezhattur village in Kannur district, who had opposed the proposed National Highway bypass through their paddy fields and wetlands.
The reprieve came when a study made by a research officer of the Union Ministry for Environment and Forests suggested that the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) must make all efforts to protect the ecologically sensitive site. The study was conducted following a complaint filed by the Vayalkkilikal.
If there is no other way, the study mooted, the proposed road should be constructed along the side and not through the paddy fields. The study also suggested that alternative proposals made by the Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP) and other non-governmental offices should be seriously considered.
The study report must have come as a big relief for the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government as well. It may be mentioned that the government and the Vayalkkilikal were on a confrontationist course over the proposed bypass. Now that the study has suggested exploration of other options, the government and the CPI(M), which was feeling the heat over the sensitive issue, can breathe easy.
Even as it emphasized the need for the bypass, the study felt that the stretch of paddy fields in focus was the sole source of livelihood for the Keezhattur residents.
Understandably, the Vayalkkilikal are happy over the findings of the report, which vindicates their stand. Suresh Keezhattur, who had led the agitation launched by the residents of the are, had alleged that the proposed new alignment would have benefited only a few real estate firms.
Suresh also sounded a note of warning. If the LDF government and the NHAI were to ignore the report and go ahead with the project, the Vayalkkilikal would intensify their agitation and seek legal remedies as well.
The Pinarayi Vijayan Government and the CPI(M) should also learn appropriate lessons from the suggestions made by the study. All efforts should be made to seek the cooperation of local residents before embarking upon a project of this dimension, which has a vital bearing on their lives. Hasty attempts to ride rough shod over the feelings and sensibilities of the people would encounter stiff opposition. Hopefully, wiser counsels would prevail in future. (IPA)