The recent government move of making amendments to the Kerala land Assignment rules to regularize the land inhabited by persons till June 1, 2005, has stirred up another stiff controversy in the state.
The amendments made by the UDF government to land assignment rules laid down in 1964 seek to regularize the occupation of government leased land in hilly areas of the state including those that had been encroached upon prior to June 1, 2005. It also enables them to get the title deeds for the land occupied. According to the existing law, only revenue land encroachments till 1971 and forest land encroachments till 1977 are eligible to title deeds. While the existing law allows title deeds only up to a maximum of one acre of land, the new amendment proposes up to four acres of land. It did away with the stipulation that the land assigned should not be sold away or alienated for 25 years and the annual income limit of the applicants has been increased from Rs. 30, 000 to 3 lakh.
It’s an indisputable reality that the estate owners, settlers and the land mafia have encroached upon and taken hold of thousands of acres of forest as well as revenue land mainly in Idukki district for decades. The government, instead of opposing the acquisition that gravely affects even the state’s environmental balance, has succumbed to the pressures and demands of the settlers and land mafia, initiating steps allowing title deeds and legalizing the acquisition. This unethical move apparently has another agenda of stabilizing the vote bank. When the acquisitions stepped up uncontrollably, Additional Chief Secretary Nivedita P Haran was entrusted to study and submit a report on the matter. She had reported on large scale forest land acquisition including Kurinji sanctuary. Even though the government approved the report, no effective steps were taken to evacuate the settlers or to regain the land.
The attempts by former Chief Minister V S Achuthananthan to clear the acquired land off the settlers were equally resisted by both the government as well as the then Opposition, the UDF. The politicians and the governments are bent upon turning the ecologically sensitive areas like Western Ghats, the endangered forests and other areas of natural significance into resorts and concrete forests. The UDF as well as the LDF were vying with each other for safeguarding and resisting the opposition towards those who challenged the Ranganathan Committee report on Western Ghats. The offices of the Forest Department were destroyed and acres of forests were burnt down during the violent protests by priests in mountainous areas against the Kasturirangan report. The cases filed were withdrawn by the Chandy government and the Left Front remained silent on the matter. Since the land assigned could now be transferred to anyone, it has also paved new ways for the converting the forest lands and ecologically sensitive areas into more resorts and buildings. The majority of lands are in the name of the politicians and their relatives.
The move has been critisised by the Opposition, Congress MLAs like T. N. Prathapan and V.D. Satheesan, KPCC president V M Sudheeran, the DCCs belonging to Idukku and Pathanamthitta and Opposition leader V S Achuthanandan who have demanded a withdrawal of the newly made changes to the Act. Complaints of not bringing up the matter in the assembly or within the party were also raised. The Chandy government, who has an eye on the votes, is trying hard to win the confidence of the people that would favour him during the Panchayat and Municipality elections. The rigid opposition from the environmental activists and social workers has pressurized the government to revoke the controversial amendments which is highly appreciable. The people should be vigilant against all such ‘intentional’ moves of the government that could harm our ecological balance, we humans and the planet as a whole.