With the UDF subcommittee meeting this week expected to frame recommendations for the amendment to the Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act, the greens have already raised their apprehensions over it.
According to them, an amendment at this point of time when paddy land and wetlands in the state are already shrinking will be equivalent to legalising reclamation of paddy fields and wetlands. The green activists fear that the amendment would adversely affect the agricultural sector and facilitate more private players to misuse the liberalisation of regulations.
“For instance, there is nearly 5,000 acres of land in three districts in the central zone where pokkali farming is flourishing. This type of farming is prevalent in Kochi and Paravoor in Ernakulam, Cherthala in Alappuzha and Kodungallur in Thrissur. The estuaries of Vembanad lake and Periyar river are major fields of cultivation. Several acres of paddy fields have already been reclaimed in these districts for various development projects. An amendment will further increase the chances for reclamation,” alleged Pokkali Samrakshana Samithi general convener Francis Kalathunkal.
Some experts are of the opinion that though a clear picture of the recommendations is yet to be published, most of the apprehensions are based on assumptions.
“Earlier, there was a plan to amend the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act, 2008. But it was scrapped in 2012, following a hue and cry from various quarters. The view of the authorities is that without an amendment, it would be difficult to implement various projects, including Aranmula airport project and Electronic Park at Amballoor. The proposed amendment is expected to give authority to the government to issue notification for filling up of paddy fields for projects that are mooted for public interest,” the experts said. According to them, as per the Act 28 of the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act 2008, there is a clause that development projects can be carried out on such land if the government is satisfied that it is expedient in public interest.
“Giving a clear definition to ‘public interest’ may be one of the amendments that the authorities are looking into. Even the existing Act gives exemption to the holder of the land for using it for other activities than cultivating, but the proceedings are stringent. Hence relaxation of the norms is also likely to be included in the amendment,” the experts said.
Since the government has the power to amend the Act without the consent of the Centre, heated discussions are likely to crop up in the coming days, they added.