Fingers in encroachment pie

The data available with the Electricity Department claims there are over 1,200 encroachments upon KSEB land in Idukki alone.

Published: 28th May 2017 01:19 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th May 2017 06:54 AM   |  A+A-

Illus: Amit Bandre

Express News Service

MUNNAR: It is insidious and mindless, the encroachment into public land. Especially in areas like Idukki where decreasing natural resources have already set alarm bells ringing. If anything, it is an example of poor governance, selfish interests, public negligence and irresponsible citizen behaviour.

Interestingly, even Electricity Minister M M Mani launched an all-out attack against Revenue officers in connection with the eviction drive in Munnar. But the data available with the Electricity Department claims there are over 1,200 encroachments into KSEB land in Idukki alone. The department is yet to ascertain the loss of its properties, leave alone evicting the encroachers.

When ‘Express’ visited the Chithirapuram generation division, an encroachment into a property near the KSEB inspection bungalow was appalling. A church named Nithyasahaya Matha Church, Chithirapuram, stood on KSEB land violating all electrical security provisions! The Church was constructed at a 72-cent plot under two 66 KV electric transmission lines drawn from Pallivasal to Kothamangalam and Aluva electric sub-stations.

As per electric safety guidelines, any structure should be constructed keeping a safe distance from high voltage electric transmission lines. In case of extended structures, a safe distance of 6.1 m from the ground is mandatory. But a mere look into the structure tells how dangerously the place of worship is constructed, with hundreds of believers thronging for holy mass and other rituals daily.

Although the KSEB - absolutely certain the land belongs to it - filed a case against the church authorities, the local priest Fr Jovakim Kunjumon said the church was given the land by one  Augustine Pappali as a gift some 30 years ago. 


“Since it was a gift deed, the authorities constructed a church there,” he said. 
However, he was not sure whether the land belonged to the KSEB before Augustine claimed ownership.
KSEB officers said the church has not only grabbed the land of the electricity board but also demolished a KSEB structure when they tried to construct a gate in front of the inspection bungalow. 

“The Board has filed a criminal suit against the church authorities in this regard,” said an officer.

ELECTRICITY BOARD SANS ‘POWER’

Former KSEB Land Management Unit chief coordinator C Raghu said, though the PWD and the Devaswom Department have the power to evict encroachers from their property, the electricity board was not conferred with any such power. “A proposal seeking permission to evict encroachers from its properties is still pending before the state government.

Until and unless the Board is in possession of records, documents and survey sketches of its properties, eviction would be a challenging task,” he said. Meanwhile, assistant executive engineer R Ramesh, in-charge of the Land Management Cell now, said: “If the Land Management Unit is empowered under the Kerala Land Conservancy Act, 1957, section 15, which provides officers to exercise the powers of Collectors, land management will be effective.”

A provision in the Kerala Land Conservancy Act says the Government may - by notification in the Gazette - authorise any officer, including the secretaries of Panchayats and Municipalities, by name or by virtue of his office to exercise all or any of the powers conferred on a Collector. Ramesh also wondered, citing an instance, whether it is possible to fence around 650-long catchment area of the Idukki dam to protect it from encroachers. Senior officers also hinted there should be coordinated efforts from various departments in evicting encroachers from public property. 

ANAYIRANGAL DAM RESERVOIR AREA

If the KSEB-Church issue is a relatively small encroachment, a visit to the Anayirangal Dam  reeks of the involvement of bigwigs like Harrisons Malayalam Ltd (HML). Over a hundred acres of KSEB land on the catchment area of the dam has been encroached upon.

Though the department registered a case in 2011 and the Crime Branch identified 97 encroachments there, the land is still under the custody of encroachers. The Board even failed to ascertain the extent of land encroached over the years.

In fact, the rising water level every monsoon has prevented the encroachers from usurping the reservoir area where a portion was occupied by the lush green carpet of tea and cardamom plantations. An HML spokeperson said: “It was true the HML and the Board have some boundary disputes and a case to this effect is pending before the High Court. If the High Court finds the HML has encroached Board land, we will give it back to the Board.”

BOARD SAYS ‘TATA’ TO ITS OWN LAND

The former Meenkettu assistant executive engineer stressed the absence of a proper system is making eviction a difficult task. When he was in charge, he had summoned the officials of TATA following reports the company had encroached upon 50 cents of Board property under his office.

During the inspection, TATA officials conceded the same and said they were ready to give back the land back to KSEB. But, as soon as the company gives back the land, there existed a possibility local people from nearby areas would occupy it as the area was very much vulnerable to encroachment. “Following this, the Board didn’t take custody of the land for a certain period,” he said.

LACK OF POLITICAL WILL

Experts from the KSEB said, irrespective of the challenges and the laxity, it is a pity the issue is still not dealt with seriously by the political class as there always exists an unholy nexus between encroachers, political parties and a section of corrupt officers from various departments.

Checking the encroachment is a daunting task as, once it happens, removal arouses widespread unrest and retaliation. Devikulam MLA S Rajendran, who once encroached upon KSEB land and the local court ordered his eviction from the area acting on a plea from the Board, said the issue cannot be dealt with easily as the issue has two sides.

NO CLEAR RECORDS

Despite these instances, the Board has no clear records and survey sketches of its properties across the state. Minister M M Mani said in the assembly the Board has around 50,000 acres of its own land and around 24,000 acres land leased from various departments, including the Forest Department.

The Board has also identified around 1,200 encroachments in Idukki alone, apart from encroachments in other districts where a detailed inventory of encroachments is being prepared. However, a senior KSEB officer said the land owned by the Board is dated back to the 1930s and ‘20s and many of its properties belong to the pre-Independence era when the Board was part of the Public Works Department. 



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