Kerala has now become a safe haven for the organisations affiliated with the religious minorities to indulge in any activities without being caught. The recent raids at the Believer Church establishments, headquartered at Thiruvalla, had exposed this ‘religious business’ and the reluctance of the state machinery to take action against them. Now, new evidence is emerging regarding open violation of the rule of land by another evangelical Pentecostal organisation named ‘Assemblies of God’. This organisation is accused of constructing its headquarters, the Paranthal religious Centre, by flouting all the laws and causing heavy destruction to the environment. As usual, the state government is not taking any measures to stop this illegal activity. At the same time, locals allege that the DYFI, which is the youth wing of the ruling CPIM, is providing protection for carrying out these activities and resisted the villages from protesting against the construction work
For the construction of the new building, the Assemblies of God is accused of destroying the wetland and openly violating THE KERALA CONSERVATION OF PADDY LAND AND WETLAND ACT, 2008. An order was issued by the District collector of Pathanamthitta in 2019 against the construction, following a directive from the Kerala High Court. But despite that, the construction is progressing.
This Pentecostal organisation had purchased land at Pandalam in Pathanamthitta district in the names of Rev. Dr P.S Phillip (Superintendent Trust Board) and Rev. T.P Paulose. They started purchasing the land from its owners in April 2019.
The primary suspicion is regarding land procurement. The land was purchased at a higher cost. Plots with a net valuation of Rs 4,000- 5000 was procured at Rs 50,000 and above. They have already levelled 3.5 acres of paddy field till now. In 2018, during the Kerala flood, 30 families living next to the paddy field were worst hit. They had to go to the relief camps since their houses were submerged underwater. The region had a steady water flow and due to the construction activities, the ecology is itself destroyed. Locals fear that a possible flood in the future could submerge the entire region underwater. The region is home to endemic plants and they might face extinction incase of more damage to the environment due to the construction activities.
At the very beginning when the construction activities started, the local residents and environment activists had held a meeting and filed a petition against the construction activities at the Kerala High Court. On 16th December 2019, a complaint signed by 57 villagers was submitted to the district collector. Even though the High Court asked the district collector to take necessary action, it couldn’t stop this illegal activity. But the construction went on at full pace even when a stop memo was issued by the Village officer. On 30th December 2019, Tehsildar and Village officer had reached the place and they made the construction workers take all the materials used to level the paddy fields.
The construction resumed in January 2020. Again a stop memo was issued but was violated. When the villagers and certain organisations opposed the construction, this Pentecostal group and the CPI(M) (which sees them as a potential vote-bank) came up with a communal narrative and said that the paddy field was levelled for organising a convention. In the convention organised in February 2020, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala took part. CPIM which claims to be the party of downtrodden and a party committed to saving environment made a speech standing at a podium made after levelling the paddy field.
Violating the stop memo issued by the Village officer, the Assemblies of God have levelled the paddy fields under survey numbers 129-6, 129-8, 129-9, 138-5, 138-6, 138-7, 138-12, 138-13, 138-16, 139-5-1, 139-7, 139-13, 140-1, 140-8-12, 138-13, 140-1, 140-8.
Kerala High Court ordered the District Collector to personally visit the place and take a decision after an enquiry. After a directive was issued by the Court, the Collector consulted various government departments including agriculture department to prepare a detailed report about the present situation. After this, the collector held talks with environment activists, public representatives and the representatives from the evangelical organisation. After all this, the District Collector issued an order on 21st January 2021, asking the Pentecostal organisation to stop all construction activities and revert the wetland to its pre-existing condition. But the construction is still going on at full pace.
People who are fighting against this illegal activity accuse local CPIM leaders Harsha Kumar and T Baiju of favouring the Pentecostal organisation. Without political support, it is impossible to carry out such activities without being affected by the court ruling and the orders from the district collector.