The Forest Department on Friday submitted before the Kerala High Court that the Cherunelli estate in the Nelliampathy forest region has been notified as reserve forests.
According to the state, 296 acres are notified as reserve forest. The state further submitted that in an order dated January 20, 2006, the state had made it clear that any transfer of lease land by way of assignment lease or gift attracts the Forest Conservation Act, and hence lessees cannot have any absolute right to transfer the forest land to strangers.
As many as 25 estates were situated within the four boundaries of Nelliampathy Reserve. The persons who possessed that land have no right over the land, the state said.
The affidavit filed by Additional Chief Secretary P K Mohanthy submitted that the transfer of leased land in the Cherunelli estate was null and void, as the transfers were made without the consent of the lessee.
According to the Transfer of Property Act, leased land cannot be transferred.
The state further submitted that the management of the forest was governed by the Forest Policy of 1952. “The policy was to divert forest land for agriculture. Nelliampathy hills is part of the Western Ghats which is immensely rich in bio-diversity. The estate is also a part of the buffer zone of the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve,” the state said.
The petitioners have not produced documents to prove the ownership, and also pointed out that an encroacher into the forest area was a self-proclaimed offender of the Constitution.
The state further submitted that the lease was for the limited purpose of raising cash crops.
The lessee has the right only for cultivation, and has no right to fragment the lease, hold smaller pieces and alienate them.
“Nelliampathy hills is an abode of rare and endangered flora and fauna. Serious irregularities were noticed in respect of felling of a large number of trees causing ecological imbalance. Later, the Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) inspected the area. Based on a report by CCF, the District Collector had issued an order to stop the entire tree-felling in the Nelliampathy area,” the affidavit said.
The affidavit was filed through Special Government Pleader M P Madhavankutty.