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Farmers in Kerala Urge Kerala High Court to Add Neela Kozhi On Vermin List

An Ernakulam-based farmers' group has petitioned the Kerala High Court to classify this specific swamphen species as vermin.

Chintu Das
Neela Kozhi
Neela Kozhi

Pokkali rice farmers in Kerala have asked the High Court to add Grey-headed swamphen or "Neela Kozhi" to the list of vermin after rats, mice, fruit bats, and crows were labeled as vermin for damaging crops. Grey-headed swamphens can be seen roosting and breeding in uncultivated rice fields or marshy regions of wetlands.

An Ernakulam-based farmers' organisation has petitioned the Kerala High Court to classify this specific type of swamphen as vermin, citing the birds' continuous invasion of their paddy fields, where an unique salt-resistant rice variety known as "pokkali" is being produced.

Pokkali agriculture is a type of mixed farming in which rice is grown for five months, prawn or fish breeding for another five months, and the remaining 60 days constitute a transition time between the two.

The bird is a protected species under the Wildlife Protection Act, according to specialists, and can only be labeled vermin by the state's Forest Department.

The state administration, on the other hand, argued that the bird was migratory and that this was the first time a complaint had been filed. The farmers should have addressed the forest department first, according to the report, before going to court.

The court, on the other hand, instructed the state government not to consider such a technical argument, stating that if the farmers had no issue, they would not have filed a writ petition.

The court requested the state government to explain whether the farmers' grievances, as stated by T R S Kumar, Mithun C Thomas, and Akshay Joseph, were real, and if not, what was the reason for submitting the current petition.

The high court allowed farmers to shoot down wild boars threatening farms in some sections of the state in July this year, and asked the state administration to designate the animal as vermin in such regions.

Pokkali rice farmers in Ernakulam are seeking similar help for their fields. The farmers have asked the court to declare the grey-headed swamphen a vermin in their fields and to protect them from any legal action under the Wildlife Act if they kill, injure, or trap the bird while attempting to protect their crop, which is primarily grown in the Thrissur, Ernakulam, and Alappuzha districts of Kerala.

The grey-headed swamphen is a water bird that dwells in Kerala's thick marshy regions, rice fields, and marshes, where it forms a huge population.

While swamphens are not an endangered or migratory species, they are protected by the Wildlife Protection Act, according to experts like Dr. P O Nameer.

Dr. Nameer, the Dean of the Kerala Agricultural University's College of Climate Change and Environmental Science in Vellanikkara, said that while these birds have been proven to harm crops in several parts of the state, the cost to farmers is not as great as has been reported.

He stated that the farming community would like to classify all animals and birds as pests. Farmers who have incurred losses, according to Dr. Nameer, can seek compensation from the government.

In the situation at hand, he said that grey-headed swamphens generally roost and nest in uncultivated rice fields or marshy parts of wetlands, and that if these places are cultivated, the birds may be forced to leave.

The farmers, on the other hand, believe that "scarcity of food and inappropriate habitat" are key factors in the bird's invasion of their paddy fields, which they exploit for refuge and reproduction "owing to the high covering created by the pokkali rice plant."

Farmers claim that these birds arrive after sowing the seeds in June and stay until harvest time in November, wreaking havoc on the developing crops by eating on the buds and cutting the paddy stems to make nests. According to the farmers, it also causes bald spots in the crops.

The bird's actions have caused significant harm to the pokkali rice fields, which have been reduced to fewer than 1,000 hectares in Kerala, down from more than 25,000 hectares in the past, according to the petition.

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