The lonely fight to save a forest

There was hardly any move for some time since the project was mired in other litigations, too.

Kochi: Meena Menon has been watching the groves which she considers sacred being destroyed, but not silently. The lonely woman who inherited the 1.98 acres of land and the forest that thrived on it knocked on every door to protect them from being axed for the last six years, but failed. Almost.

The struggle started in 2013 when she was told that the Mannam-Cherai transmission line would be passing though her plot. As per norms, she appealed to the district collector. There was hardly any move for some time since the project was mired in other litigations, too.

It was in 2016 that the project got another lease of life. She was called by the collector for a hearing where she opposed the alternative route which also would result in the loss of sizeable part of the forest. On the direction of the district collector, the additional district magistrate heard both the KSEB and Ms Menon and allowed the utility to go ahead with its original plan.

She petitioned the High Court against the KSEBL in 2017 but the court, which rejected her wtrit petion in April 5 this year, said it is for the KSEBL, an expert body, to decide on the project as there was only limited possibility for a judicial review. A look at the judgment, however, would force one to doubt if Ms Menon was able to present before the court the unique nature of the forest and its value with respect to its biodiversity. The judgment refers to "different plants" which include "medicinal plants" as well as to visits by migratory birds but makes no mention of the studies conducted by institutions such as KFRI which asserts its significance as a biodiversity spot.

The court, however, made it clear that "nothing prevented the petitioner from seeking shifting of line in appropriate manner." The KSEBL, however, offered her no time to seek such a shifting of line; it started piling in the forest the morning after the judgment was delivered.

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