The government has decided to go slow in implementing the extraordinary gazette notification allowing usage of five per cent of plantation land for other purposes.
When the amendment to the Kerala Land Reforms Act 1963 was effected and received the assent of the Indian President, environmentalists and Opposition parties had raised serious concern about the ecological impact of the proposed move.
The Act called The Kerala Land Reforms ( amendment) Act 2005 allows the plantation owners to use five per cent of the land for cultivation of medicinal plants, vanila, floriculture, establishment of hotels and resorts or other tourism purposes.
Revenue Minister Adoor Prakash said that the utilisation of plantation land would be decided only after discussions with the officials concerned.
Revenue principal secretary-level meetings will be convened to identify how the provisions of the Bill could be implemented without disturbing the environment.
“The decision was taken in the background of several areas of the plantation sector especially tea plantations, facing deep crisis. Several plantations were forced to close leaving hundreds of workers jobless”, he said.
Diversification from plantation will help in the cultivation of other agricultural crops which will help create jobs for workers.
The small-scale plantation sector was not able to provide employment as it was found not profitable, the minister said.
According to the minister, the additional income from cultivation of other crops will make this sector profitable.
Construction of buildings for tourism purposes will be considered only after ensuring that it does not damage the environment.
The minister pointed out that the Plantation Labour Committee (LPC), which includes members of all the trade unions, had unanimously agreed to implement the proposal. Discussions if necessary will be held with those in the plantation sector, he added. PLC member Cyriac Thomas said that construction for tourism purposes is not the focus of the amendment. Along with cultivation of new crops, the existing bungalows and guest houses within the plantation land could be converted to suit tourism needs.
“The land could be used only by the plantation owners and there is no provision to hand over it to any other persons or groups. Constructions coming up for tourism purposes will have to follow environmental guidelines”, he said.
Environmentalist M K Prasad said that the amendment to the Land Reforms Act will have far-reaching consequences.
With the construction of buildings, the water flow will be obstructed at the plantations.
The constructions on plantation land have caused environmental damage. According to him, there was no need for an amendment for utilising the bungalows and other buildings in the plantation area for tourism purposes, he said.
According to figures of the Revenue Department, the plantation area in the state comes to around 4,88,138 acres. With the amendment, 24,000 acres of plantation area could be converted for other agriculture purposes and tourism.
There are apprehensions that the plantation owners will hand over the land to other parties for tourism purposes.
The land given on lease by the government is not supposed to be transferred to any other parties.