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Kerala cardinals meet Sonia over green recommendations
Dec 19, 2013: A high level Church delegation from Kerala, including two Cardinals, met Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling coalition in New Delhi, to apprise her of their apprehensions over recommendations of a green panel.
Heads of three catholic communities in Kerala—Syro-Malabar Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry, Syro-Malankara Major Archbishop Cardinal Baselios Cleemis and head of Latin archdioceses of Thiruvanthapuram Archbishop Susai Pakiam—met Gandhi on Tuesday.
"We now have assurance that people will not be evicted, and no action will be taken without considering the concerns of the people," deputy secretary general of the national bishop's conference Father Joseph Chinnayyan told UCAN. He said the Church leaders asserted that Church considers environmental protection a priority. But it should not be done at the cost of people and families, said the priest, who was part of the delegation.
Church leaders have been spearheading agitations against recommendations of a high-level environmental panel headed by K. Kasturirangan. The panel listed 123 villages on the hilly state's areas of the state as ecologically sensitive and recommended restriction of human activities such as farming. If implemented, the recommendation will adversely affect some 2.2 million people, mostly Catholics in Idukki districts, according to Church leaders.
The Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council now wants Kasturirangan report be "completely withdrawn" and a new report prepared incorporating positive elements of the existing report, according to a resolution the council passed in its Dec. 12 meeting.
Father Chinnayyan said the Church leaders wanted to personally present the resolution to the national leadership. He said the Church delegation was prepared to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but could get his time only today. Since the cardinals had other important engagements they left New Delhi and Father Chinnayyan will present the memorandum to Singh on their behalf today.
A day before Church leaders met political leadership, the Environment Ministry informed a special court that it has initiated steps to implement the recommendations of the K Kasturirangan panel. According to reports, it also told the court that officials are yet to finalize areas marked as "ecologically sensitive."
Father Sebastian Kochupurackel, a catholic priest who led several agitations on the issue, said the panel recommends restrictions, including constructions of houses, in areas marked as "ecologically sensitive." In some villages goverment has already frozen land deeds. "It means people cannot sell or buy their lands. Their land has become worthless," the priest said.
Bishop Mathew Arackel of Kanjirapally described it a "grave situation" for the people in the area. "It is not a Catholics' issue. It is a people's issue. We should involve more people from other communities. Now Catholic community is seen as anti-green. It is unfortunate," he said.