A massive protest, led by top opposition leaders from various parties lines, was held in Kannur on Sunday to support the demand for a realignment of a by-pass near here, with participants asserting that they would not allow paddy fields to be sacrificed to build it.
Among those who led the march were former State Congress President VM Sudheeran, Bharatiya Janata Party MP and superstar Suresh Gopi, six-time Independent legislator PC George, Aam Aadmi Party leader CR Neelakandan and several environmentalists.
The protest came a day after top leadership of the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist's local unit, which is strongly supporting the by-pass, took to the streets here shouting slogans against the protesters, saying they have an "anti-development" agenda and calling to isolate them.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the district CPI (M) leadership however contend that a total of 11.5 acres of paddy fields is being taken and all, except four people, have agreed to it. They accused "vested interests behind the protesters of misleading the hapless local populace".
However, in Sunday's protest, Sudheeran said he is surprised to see that while the CPI (M) lead protests against taking over farmlands for development in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, here they are the biggest supporters for it.
"What must be noted is that no environment and social impact assessment study was undertaken nor was an expert opinion sought for this proposed alignment. The National Highways Authority of India and the Kerala government have joined hands to destroy the paddy fields, which is the source of employment for many here. In no way will we allow this paddy lands to be taken over for the by-pass," he said.
Asking Chief Minister Vijayan to intervene and settle this issue as the protesters have a genuine case, Gopi said: "My state party president has briefed a cross section of the Union Ministers stating that the present alignment has to be changed as the demands of the protesters are genuine".
"The Union government is only willing to help resolve this issue as the protesters are not against the by-pass but are against this present alignment," he added.
George went a step forward and asked Vijayan to explain the fact that arrangements have been done with a group for Rs 70 crore as eight lakh lorry loads of mud are required to fill up this paddy field for constructing the by-pass.
"If the CPI (M) leadership here do not learn from what happened in West Bengal and Tripura, then they are in for bad times. No one is against development at all... it's the manner in which development is forced on hapless people, that is being opposed," he said.
Incidentally, the protest is taking place at one of the strongholds of the CPI (M) in Kannur and most of the protesters are all hardcore CPI (M) activists. But with the Vijayan government adamant, they decided to seek the support of all people who support the environment.
Meanwhile, sensing that the protest could turn out to a problem for the CPI (M) in Kannur, state PWD Minister G Sudhakaran, who had attacked the protesters, has written to the NHAI to see if an elevated highway is possible through the present alignment, in a bid to quell the public anger.