KOZHIKODE: Environmental activists are worried that the Kerala High Court ruling to return the government-acquired land to private parties in Thusharagiri here would set a bad precedent elsewhere across the state. They fear that more private parties would approach the court to get back the lands acquired from them on the lines of Thusharagiri.
"It was after two-year-long intense fight by environmental activists and local residents that the government acquired 270 acres in Thusharagiri citing it as ecologically fragile land (EFL). Now, the court has ruled in favour of four land owners and ordered to give back the 24 acres. The court verdict will soon propel others as well to seek legal measures," said T V Rajan, state secretary of All Kerala River Protection Committee. The government had acquired ecologically fragile land from 67 other owners in Thusharagiri.
The Jeerakappara green struggle -- which later came to be known in the name of Thusharagiri -- against the large-scale felling of trees was noticed statewide with the participation of activists like Medha Patkar and Sugathakumari. As a result of the protests and struggle, the state government acquired 270 acres of land owned by 71 individuals as EFL in 2000 without giving any compensation.
According to Rajan, the four land owners approached the EFL tribunal in 2006 to get back 24 acres they owned in the capacity of farmers. "The tribunal ruled it as not EFL. Then they approached the HC with the tribunal ruling. The High Court designated a commission, which visited Thusharagiri. The panel counted 8,008 trees a day, which is practically impossible. Based on the commission's report, the High Court ruled in favour of the land owners in 2014. But the government went for appeal in the Supreme Court only after seven years. That itself caused the apex court to dismiss the appeal," said Rajan.
He alleged that both the government pleader and the forest department were grossly lackadaisical in the case, which caused the court ruling in favour of the private parties.
'Two waterfalls, kayaking event under threat'
Baby Kottupalli, a farmer and green activist, said the two waterfalls at Thusharagiri (Mazhavil and Irattumukku), the path to the tourist spot and ticket counter will be included in the 24 acres of land that the court has ordered to give back to the owners. "If the land is given back, the entire biodiversity of Thusharagiri will be in peril. The Chalipuzha river, which hosts the international kayaking competition annually, originates from the waterfalls. A comprehensive study of the rich wildlife and flora and fauna of Thusharagiri is yet to be undertaken. Further, the two eco-friendly small hydroelectric projects of KSEB-Chembukadavu 1, 2 are situated just a kilometre below the Irattamukku waterfall," said Baby. The annual kayaking event, being held with the participation of kayakers from foreign countries, had put Kozhikode on the international sporting calendar.
'Govt should acquire land by giving compensation'
The High Court order on February 2 this year to hand over the land to owners within four months had catapulted the issue into the limelight again. A consensus being put forward by both environmental activists and the Kodenchery gram panchayat is that the government should acquire the 24 acres by giving adequate compensation to the owners. "That is a feasible move. If the government had acquired the land in 2000 after giving compensation, this issue would not have happened," said Alex Thomas Chempakasserry, Kodenchery grama panchayat president.
The panchayat board and biodiversity committee of the panchayat have passed a resolution in this regard. Meanwhile, the forest minister has designated the principal conservator of forests to submit a report on the issue.
1998-2000: Protests to conserve Jeerakappara forest following large-scale tree-felling
2000: Govt acquires 270 acres of land citing it as EFL
2006: Four private owners approach EFL Tribunal
2006: HC appoints commission after tribunal rules in favour of owners
2014: HC rules to give back 24 acres of land to owners
2020: Govt appeals in SC but dismissed
2021 Feb: HC orders to hand over the land to owner within four months.