THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Almost five years have passed since the Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB) submitted the proposal to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change asking for Biodiversity Heritage Site (BHS) tag for the Vellayani Lake. However, the process to demarcate the boundaries, which is crucial for getting the heritage status, is progressing very slowly due to issues concerning the reclamation of the land.
As per the estimates, the authorities will have to reclaim around 500 acres of land submerged by the lake, owned by around 750 private parties. According to official sources, the government will have to spend a minimum of `400 crore on compensation. The Venganoor and Kalliyoor panchayat offices will be submitting the complete report on the survey number valuation to the district administration by next week. According to Kerala State Biodiversity Board executives, the BHS status would help conserve the lake and also add to the livelihood of the community.
Venganoor village officer R Jayakumar said that the survey number valuations are in the final stages and a report would be submitted to the district administration by Monday or Tuesday next week. “Only 36 hectares of the lake belongs to the government and the rest of the area belongs to private parties. Based on our report, the tahsildar will finalise the valuation of the surveyed land and place the proposal before the state government,” said Jayakumar.
However, the landowners condemned the current evaluation of land value which is outdated and based on 1991 statistics. The landowners are planning to approach the government demanding fair value along with compensation for farming loss incurred in the past decades. The state government decided to reclaim 217 acres of land submerged under the lake. “The government is acquiring land based on the fair value and giving good compensation for the parties letting go of their land for major development projects.
These farmers and their families also deserve the same treatment,” said R S Sreekumar, Venganoor panchayat member and Save Lake Vellayani Committee chairman Padashekhara Kayal Samrakshana Samithi convenor Koliyoor Gopi said that the farmers have incurred a minimum loss of `500 crore in the past three decades. “We just want compensation based on the current fair value fixed by the state government. We will not allow the revenue authorities to mark the boundaries without giving appropriate compensation for the reclaimed land,” said Koliyoor Gopi, who owns around 55 cents of land submerged by the lake.
Water source or farming land?
Though the state government gave the nod for farming activities at Vellayani, the state human rights commission ruled against the decision, stating that lake is the drinking water source for areas like Kovalam, and Vizhinjam. A senior official of the district admin said that even if the government decides against reclamation, the parties will not be able to use the land.
What is a Biodiversity Heritage Site?
Biodiversity Heritage Sites (BHS) are notified areas of biodiversity importance in India. The Indian government can notify the Biodiversity Heritage Sites (BHS) in consultation with local governing bodies under Section 37 of Biological Diversity Act of 2002. These areas are considered unique and fragile ecosystems. They can be either terrestrial, coastal and inland waters or marine ecosystems. So far, the list includes Pannivelichira, Pathanamthitta, Asramam, Ashtamudi Lake, and parts of Pandalam Thekkekara.