Angel Valley, Pampa Valley ‘vanish’ in satellite survey

Two wards in Erumely panchayat with 1,200 families have been marked as forest
Angel Valley, Pampa Valley ‘vanish’ in satellite survey

KOTTAYAM: Even as the buffer zone issue is raging in the state, as many as 1,200 families in Angel Valley and Pampavalley areas in the eastern tip of Kottayam district are facing a peculiar situation. The satellite survey conducted by the government to determine populated areas in the buffer zone has apparently put their habitats within the forest area. As per the findings of the satellite survey, two wards (11-Pampavalley, 12- Angel Valley) in Erumely grama panchayat have ‘vanished’ and have been marked as forest.

While the government has advised the people in the buffer zone to fill up a pro forma and submit it to the expert panel to exempt them from the buffer zone guidelines, the residents in Pampavalley and Angel Valley areas are in panic as they are not even in the buffer zone! “Government admits that people are living in buffer zones. However, government does not even know of our existence as our land has been marked as forest in the survey. How can we fill up the pro forma, which is intended to prove one’s existence in a buffer zone? Even the minister and MLA failed to give a proper answer to our queries,” said Fr James Kollamparambil, vicar of St Mary’s Church, Angel Valley.

Angel Valley and Pampavalley areas share their borders with Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) which lie between Mookkenpetty causeway and Kanamala bridge. Human settlements commenced here as part of the ‘Grow More Food’ scheme of the government, which was launched to address food scarcity during 1947-48. The land was allocated to ex defence personnel shortly after the Second World War and their descendants are presently living here.

“As many as 5,000 people from 1200 families are presently living here. There are eight shrines, a CBSE school, one health centre and four anganwadis here. Still the place has been marked as a forest,” said Fr James.

63-year-old P J Sebastian could not even believe the development. “My father is an ex-serviceman and my family came here even before my birth. We have been remitting land tax since 1953 and we have all the documents as well. Then how come this land is notified as forest?” Sebastian asked.

For the residents, life here has always been a relentless struggle. Though people started inhabiting here from 1947-48, they got pattayam (title deed) only in 2016, that too after continuous struggles and protests. The title deeds they got during the final days of previous UDF government were frozen by the LDF government. Soon, they approached court and secured a favourable order. As per the statistics of the government, 908 persons were eligible for title deeds. However, only 450 persons have got title deeds and the remaining deeds are yet to be distributed.

Most of the residents are farmers and they have been battling wild animals for the past several years. “Above all, our existence here is in trouble following the report of the satellite survey. Farmers and ordinary people are living here and they have no place to go,” said Fr James.

The residents accused the grama panchayat authorities and their MLA stating that they failed to take necessary steps even after two wards ‘vanished’ from the official documents. The representatives of the area met Forest Minister A K Saseendran a few days ago. As per the advice of the minister, the residents have started submitting pro forma to the expert panel. A help desk started functioning at St Mary’s Church on Tuesday to help people fill up and submit the pro forma, even though it’s unsure whether the expert panel will accept the pro forma of people living in the ‘forest.’

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The New Indian Express