Kerala police arrested a farmer from Edavanna village in Kerala's Malappuram district today, giving much-need relief to the Left Democratic Front (LDF) on the nation-wide outrage caused by the death of a pregnant elephant in the Silent Valley after it reportedly consumed a pineapple stuffed with crackers.
Another Malayalam daily Kerala Kaumudi that two persons, arrested in the case, had reportedly told the interrogators that they had set up a snare of fruit filled with crackers to drive away wild boars.
Fruits such as pineapple are set as a trap, called panni padakam, for wild boars and the elephant, whose death led to a national uproar, could have been an unintentional target.
Tamil and Malayalam writer B Jeyamohan the elephant murder took place, probably, as part of expansion of agricultural activities in the Western Ghats area, mostly by settler farmers. He says the Kerala government has silently approved the hunting down of wild boars as they destroy various root crops grown by the tribals on the ghats.
Narrating the gruesome preparation of the fruit, Jeyamohan says crackers from Sivakasi are mixed with shreds of glasses or crushed rocks and made into a round ball-like structure which is bound by a jute thread.
When this ball it bitten, it generates heat through the glass or crushed rock leading to an explosion which can even burst an animal’s head. Such explosives are banned but they are being illegally used still.
The impact on the elephants was such that the explosive fruits had blown off its trunks.
The development also bares the lip service that Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has paid to human-wildlife conflict in the Western Ghats.
In a Twitter thread yesterday (4 June), Vijayan said: "We will also try to address the causes behind the increased incidences of human-wildlife conflict. Climate change could be adversely affecting both the local communities and animals."
He said the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) government in the state would address the causes behind the human-wildlife conflict and added that climate change could have also contributed to this.
What looked like an outrage by Vijayan on the issue is actually fake, if one looks back at the history of CPM and its stand on the need to protect the sensitive zones in the Western Ghats.
Political experts say that in the Western Ghats, particularly the Silent Valley, the settler or tenant farmers are mostly Syrian Christians who have encroached forest lands.
Thanks to their political strength, they have now got the titles to these holdings. These farmers had come to Malappuram as part of a large-scale migration from central and south Kerala starting from early 1900s.
The CPM had joined hands with the church against preserving the sensitive areas in the Western Ghats, which includes the Silent Valley.
Both had opposed the recommendations of the 2011 Western Ghats Ecology Experts Panel report, submitted by Madhav Gadgil and another report submitted by space scientist K Kasturirangan.
Failure to preserve the sensitive areas led to large-scale flooding and landslides in 2018 when Kerala experienced its heaviest rainfall in over 100 years.
In view of a large number of Christians being involved in farming in the ecologically sensitive region in the region, the church has opposed the Gadgil and Kasturirangan reports.
The Kasturirangan panel identified 123 villages across 12 of the 14 districts in Kerala. A group called High Range Protection Council and headed by a priest, Sebastian Kochupurakkal, held protests and agitations against both the panels' recommendations.
P T Thomas, a former Lok Sabha member who represented the Idukki constituency for the Congress, had alleged that the CPM was backing the church in opposing the recommendations to preserve the sensitive areas by misleading people.
Thomas was denied a nomination from Idukki by the Congress as the Bishop of Idukki’s Syro Malabar Catholic Church opposed his renomination. Joice George, an independent, went on to win the elections with the support of CPM.
In the present circumstances, too, the LDF government would have chosen to hush up the killings of the wild boar and elephants through fruits stuffed with crackers as the Syrian Christians form a crucial vote bank for the CPM in the region.
With Kerala scheduled to face elections to the Assembly within a year's time, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan will likely toe a soft line on the issue as the LDF usually backs the church to garner votes.
The elephant's death, which happened on 27 May, could have remained in the dark but for a Facebook posting by Kerala Forest Department official in Malappuram, Mohan Krishnan.
Krishnan was moved to tears since he had found the elephant being “full of goodness” as it had run through the village streets without harming anyone despite “searing pain and hunger”.
It died in a standing posture in the Velliyar river, though it could have come from the Palakkad side of the Silent Valley, which is home to hundreds of endangered species.
The Kerala Government swung into action only after a hue and cry was raised across the country over the tragic death of the pregnant elephant.
Concerns were also raised by Union Minister for Environment, Prakash Javadekar, and former Union Minister, Maneka Gandhi, who alleged that the state government had failed to act against killings of elephants in the state.
The LDF government was also forced to act since Gandhi referred to Malappuram, which was initially reported as the district where the elephant died, as "India's most violent district". While rushing to prove its detractors, particularly Gandhi wrong, Pinarayi Vijayan and CPM have only exposed how they have all along opposed preserving ecologically sensitive zones in Kerala.
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