Kozhikode: While the areas near forests in Kerala are witnessing widespread protests against the proposal to demarcate a one-km buffer zone adjacent to protected areas, a statement by Joice George, a former Member of Parliament (MP), has sparked a controversy. George, an Independent elected to the Lok Sabha in 2014 with the support of the Left Democratic Front (LDF), which is currently in power in the state, said that the buffer zone is a reality and everyone has to accept it.
Speaking at a meeting organised at Koorachundu in Kozhikode district by local LDF Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) K M Sachindev, George pointed out that buffer zones have already been implemented in neighbouring states like Tamil Nadu. “We understand the anxiety of farmers on the forest fringes. Such concerns are not out of place. However, we are facing a major legal challenge. We have to be united in order to overcome the issue,” said the former MP.
Soon after George’s speech, several farmers’ organisations came out against his statement. Moreover, with the LDF government taking pains to allay the concerns of people living in areas marked as buffer zones in a map recently published by the state Forest Department, the former MP has made a contradictory statement. Incidentally, the government has announced that it would seek to exclude areas of human habitation from the buffer zone map. But, George’s speech has now put even the CPM, which is the major party in the LDF, on the defensive.
Ironically, Sachindev had arranged the meeting to explain the state government’s position and to defend it against the allegations raised by the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) as well as the farmers’ organisations.
Kerala Independent Farmers’ Association (KIFA) alleged that George was a traitor. “George won the Lok Sabha election by posing himself as a saviour of farmers in the hill areas at a time when the Kasturirangan report on the Western Ghats was published. However, he has cheated farmers with the latest statement,” said KIFA chairman Alex Ozhukayil.
“If George has revealed the CPM’s real intentions, why has the government launched a field survey to identify human habitations in buffer zones and set up help desks across the state?” asked Alex.