THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:Amidst opposition from green groups, the two-day exercise of field-level ESA demarcation and survey number identification in 119 ESA villages across the state began on Thursday. However, contrary to the earlier decision, no sub-divisional survey numbers are being allotted to earmark the residential areas/farmland/townships within the ESA.
Right from the decision taken at the high-level meeting on Friday to identify ESA and demarcate only existing forest land as ESA, there were criticisms from various corners. The move to allot sub-division survey numbers of farmland within forest portions could help encroachers as it would be viewed as regularising encroachments.
The Kerala Paristhithi Aikyavedi under Sugathakumari had also come out against the move opposing the decision to identify CHR (Cardamom Hill Reserve) as revenue land. KPCC vice chief VD Satheesan MLA too had come out against the government decision.
However, contrary to the earlier decision it was later finalised that instead of allotting sub-divisional survey numbers, original survey numbers of these ESA would be given by mentioning as a part of ESA.
“Earlier, it was decided that sub-divisional numbers would be allotted. However, survey officials pointed out that it was not feasible to allot new survey numbers. Hence it was decided that the original survey numbers would be mentioned,” said Biodiversity board chairman Oommen V Oommen, based on whose report the village-level mapping on Kasturirangan committee report was done. For example, if a plot with a specific survey number has a portion of ESA in it, the survey number of the ESA would be designated as ‘survey number/part’. One drawback of this approach is that the actual extent of ESA portion would not be clear.
Total ESA Villages
The 119 ESA villages in the state are from 11 districts - Thiruvananthapuram (7), Kollam (8), Pathanamthitta (6), Ernakulam (1), Thrissur (1), Idukki (47), Palakkad (14), Malappuram (10), Kozhikode (9), Wayanad (13) and Kannur (3). A 6-member team led by the panchayat president - village officer, taluk surveyor, forest range officer, agricultural officer, panchayat secretary being the others - is conducting the two-day exercise.
Kuttampuzha - the only ESA village in Ernakulam district - has an area of 543 sq km.
“Of this, only about 25 sq km is residential area. There’s a sizable portion of forest land. Earlier we had identified residential area and based on that mapping was also done. Now we have to demarcate ESA and identify the survey numbers. Since there are many tribal hamlets within the forest - which are being marked as residential area, it’s a major task to demarcate ESA and non-ESA,” said Kuttampuzha panchayat president M K Ramachandran.
Govt to Protect Farmers’ Interests
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the government would protect farmers’ interests in the Kasturirangan issue. Stating that there’s no confusion within the government regarding this, Chandy said if anybody had complaints they should be expressed it earlier. He was answering to questions regarding VD Satheesan coming out against the decision.
“The government has one opinion about protecting farmers. We have made it clear before the previous UPA government at the Centre. They have accepted the state government decision. There’s no base for doubts in this issue. According to the Forest Department, there are no major encroachments after 1977,” Chandy said.