Around 17 kilometres from the city of Kochi stands the hilly hamlet of Mulanthuruthy. Hills and paddy fields once formed its very identity. The whole of Mulanthuruthy panchayat -with the support of around 27 political, religious, and cultural organisations- is now waging a joint battle to save their natural heritage.
Brought together by the Kerala Shaastra Sahitya Parishad, they formed the Manakkamala Samrakshana Janakeeya Samithi (Manakkamala Protection Council) comprising representatives from all organisations. Even rival political parties like the CPI(M), Congress and BJP have united in this struggle.
The past four months have seen this village come together to fight against private companies who are trying to raze down Manakkamala -one of the biggest red-earth hillocks near Mulanthuruthy.
Continuous protests, hunger strikes and human chains were organized by the villagers to highlight their plight. Though the companies have acquired necessary clearances from the State Mining and Geology Department and the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority to raze down Manakkamala, environment activists and Samithi members warn of dire consequences on the environment.
The Samithi has also approached the Green Tribunal for the cancellation of the clearances.
â€śHills collect ground water which can be used in summer. When hills are razed down, the water simply flows into the low-lying areas. The excavation of these red hills began over a year ago. Many of the hillocks in and around the area are now no more. All the houses located in places where the hillocks once stood, no longer have access to water in summer. Residents here have long borne the brunt of severe water shortage,â€ť says Suresh -a local area leader of the Shaastra Sahitya Parishad- while speaking to The News Minute.
He alleges that within just one year, the quarry mafia has already encroached on 35 acres of land from the village, removing more than 25,000 cubic metres of red-earth. â€śThis is excluding the hectares of land that have been taken away from areas surrounding the village,â€ť he adds.
Recently, some of the companies who bought the land approached the Kerala High Court seeking permission to resume excavation. Though the Court granted permission for the same, the Peopleâ€™s Council strongly protested and would not let them do so.
â€śAll the protests that are organized are attended by every single member of each family that lives here. The fact that the womenfolk are willing to come here with their kids just goes to show how much they suffer due to acute water-shortage in the area. People have to walk many miles to get water during summers. Women and children are the most affected,â€ť opines Pradeep K -Tripunithura Communist Party of India (CPI) area committee leader.
Red-earth excavated from the hillock is transported to other places by these companies to fuel bigger construction projects.
Pointing to a ten-acre land which has been divided into housing plots, P.A Thankachan of the Parishad says, â€śThat used to be a huge hill. It was razed down and they took away all the red-earth. Then they divided it into plots and sold them. Only later did the people who bought the plots -hoping to build homes for themselves- realize that there was no water available there. They could not hence proceed further, and it still remains a barren land. And it is not just that area, the entire neighbourhood is reeling from acute water scarcity.â€ť
The Samithi is hence adamant that it will not let history repeat itself in Manakkamala.