PT Thomas’s support of Gadgil and Kasturirangan reports drove him out of Idukki

PT Thomas, the Congress MLA who passed away on December 22, is widely remembered as the politician who always stood his ground in support of the Madhav Gadgil and K Kasturirangan reports on the Western Ghats.
Late Congress leader PT Thomas
Late Congress leader PT Thomas
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It was 2013, thousands of protesters raised slogans on the streets of the hilly district of Idukki in Kerala, against the Gadgil and Kasturirangan reports, which aimed at the protection of the Western Ghats. "Houses will be painted green; Leopards will be released into human living areas; Hatched eggs of King Cobra will be released into villages of Idukki; Farming will be completely stopped; and Permission will not be given for the construction of new houses,” read some of the slogans, explaining why they were against the implementation of the reports.

The protest movement was led by the Idukki-based people's movement, High Range Samrakshana Samithy (HRSS), whose General Convenor Father Sebastian Kochupurakal. Thousands of people participated in the protests against the reports, including parties and churches. But things changed after PT Thomas, the then Parliamentarian from Idukki, openly raised his support for the implementation of the Gadgil report.

PT Thomas, the Congress MLA who passed away on Wednesday, December 22, is widely remembered among the people of Kerala as the politician who always stood his ground in support of the Madhav Gadgil and K Kasturirangan report. His own party, the Congress, stood against the implementation of the report, offering no support to the late politician. The Congress leadership succumbed to the pressure of growing protests and displeasure of Church leaders against PT Thomas and denied him the ticket to run a second time for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It eventually drove PT Thomas out of Idukki, his native and political base.

Stiff opposition against PT Thomas

PT Thomas had said that the Gadgil Committee report did not feature any anti-farmer recommendations. His statement in favour of the committee reports irked the protesters, mainly Catholic Church leaders, who openly charged against him. The Catholic Church leaders of Idukki, which is a Congress bastion, were against the reports as they said it would hurt the Christian farmers settled along the Western Ghats.

Protests against the Kasturirangan Report

In a 2014 interview with DownToEarth, the late politician said that as a Member of the Parliament, he had held a meeting with 500 people in Idukki (even inviting the State Biodiversity Board chairperson as a speaker), to explain the implications of not implementing the recommendations of both committees. His village Upputhode was among the villages identified as the Environmental Sensitive Area (ESA) in the Kasturirangan report. “However, some priests and other members tried to sabotage the meeting and ended up in a commotion,” he said.

Former Idukki Bishop Mar Mathew Anikuzhikattil of the Syro Malabar Church, too, had criticised PT Thomas. He even slammed and cold-shouldered other Congress leaders, including then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who came to visit him ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

“Priests and Catholic church leaders had even conducted his mock funeral procession in protest against him,” recounted environmentalist MN Jayachandran. 

This drove the fear of losing the Christian turf to the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) among the Congress leaders. After the controversy broke, Congress leadership reportedly did not allow him to attend any programmes in Idukki during the election time.

Idukki district was the constituency where PT Thomas, the candidate from Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), won the elections with a margin of over 74,000 votes in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. However, in the 2014 elections, reportedly after a four-hour meeting, the Congress leadership dropped him as a candidate and fielded the present Idukki MP, Dean Kuriakose.

Oommen Chandy even headed a panel that reviewed the Kasturirangan report and made a set of recommendations, including excluding plantations and farmed lands from the ESA zone. Yet, PT Thomas, who was considered the confidant of Oommen Chandy, had said that he will not change his stand “even if I lose my political career.”

At a meeting in 2014, PT Thomas had said, “In the presence of the people, I am saying that the respected Chief Minister Oommen Chandy or the major opposition party leader Pinarayi Vijayan cannot move forward without including environmental protection in their main political agenda. The new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, should take a strong stand to implement the Madhav Gadgil committee report for the Western Ghats without diluting it. A new era will come to agree with my stand...”

PT Thomas always stood for environmental protection, Jayachandran told TNM. “When the Western Ghats conservation report emerged in the district as a burning issue, Thomas conducted a detailed study over the report and told the people that there was nothing in the report that would affect the farmers. But the Congress leadership offered him no support for his stand," said Jayachandran. “Time proved that PT Thomas stand in favour of the committee recommendations was valid,” he said, referring to the recent spate of floods and landslides in Idukki.

Although PT Thomas resided in Ernakulam district, his political base was Idukki. He reportedly visited Idukki nearly every day. After being denied the ticket, Thomas shifted his political base to Ernakulam, from where he was elected as the MLA from the Thrikkakara constituency twice, in the 2016 and 2021 Assembly elections. 

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