KOCHI: A recent government order to grant title deeds to settlers on 1,250 acres of forest land in the Kanjirappally taluk in Kottayam has come under sharp criticism from environmentalists who alleged that the order was ‘criminal’ violation of the Forest Conservation Act.
“The State Government has no right to give away forest land to encroachers without permission of the Central Government,” they pointed out.
The controversial order dated September 28, 2015, issued by the Land Revenue Commissioner, gives permission to the Kottayam District Collector to grant title deeds to 904 settlers on forest land in the Erumely North village in the Kanjirappally taluk.
“This is a blatant violation of the Forest Conservation Act- 1980, and is perhaps the fiercest attempt to divert forest land ever since the Act came into force,” said environment law expert Hareesh Vasudevan.
The order is self explanatory. Since the land belongs to the Forest Department, the government invoked Rule-24 of the Kerala Land Assignment Rules-1964 that grants special power to assign land ‘in public interest.’
The order of the Land Revenue Commissioner states that the 502 hectare (1,250 acre) of land, which is within ‘jenda’ or the forest boundary, has been occupied for over 50 years.
“The land is not part of the Periyar Tiger Reserve. It had been set aside for the ‘Grow More Food’ project. The 904 settlers in the Pampa Valley-Angel Valley area in the Kanjirappally taluk had occupied the land before 1977. A joint verification was carried out, as per the norms,” states the order.
Nevertheless, it is points out that when the Central Government agreed ‘in principle’ to approve diversion of 28,588.159 hectares of forest land in Kerala in 1993, Kottayam was not in the picture.
Then, the Central Government approved diversion of forest land in the Idukki, Pathanamthitta, Thrissur, Ernakulam and Kollam districts.
Also, the letter sent by the Agricultural Production Commissioner and Secretary (Agriculture and Forests) of Kerala in 1986 to the Central Government, seeking special permission to regularise forest encroachments until January 1, 1977, had no mention about the occupants in the Kottayam district.
“If we allow this blatant attempt to subvert the existing legislation, it would lead to diversion of the
entire forest land in the State.
We are planning to take legal recourse and to approach the Supreme Court directly against the order,” added Hareesh Vasudevan.
➤ The LRC order admits that the 502 hectares in question is forest land
➤ How can the Revenue Department issue an order to divert forest land?
➤ Only forest land encroachments prior to January 1, 1977, can be regularised as per the Kerala Land Assignment Special Rules - 1993
➤ The LRC order dated September 28, 2015, is based on the LA Rules - 1964
➤ The order says that the forest land was occupied more than 50 years ago.
➤ Then, why the 1986 letter the State sent to the Centre, listing forest land occupants, did not include the encroachments in Kottayam.