Proposed open jail in Poonjar kicks up a row

Prisons Department says project not finalised, even as locals get ready to move the court on establishing a jail in a disaster-prone area.

Published: 22nd February 2022 12:53 PM  |   Last Updated: 22nd February 2022 12:53 PM   |  A+A-

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Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A move by the state government to set up an open jail allegedly in a highly hazardous and landslide-prone region in Poonjar has drawn flak from the local residents. While the Prison department maintains that the project has not been finalised yet, the residents plan to move the court against the project.

The proposed open jail project at Kurishumala near Wagamon has drawn much flak from a section of locals, as they point out that the project site falls under a region labelled as 'high-hazard for landslide' by the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority, as per the latest Landslide Zonation Map. The Revenue Department has reportedly begun the land survey, before handing over the property to the Prisons Department.

The project site falls in the Poonjar Nadubhagam village along the Kottayam-Idukki border under the Meenachil taluk. The proposed project is planned in an area of around 160 Ha of revenue land at an elevation of 1000 MSL - 1300 MSL. According to the locals, the project could adversely affect Poonajar Nadubhagam, Teekoy and Poonjar Thekkekkara villages.

Residents allege that the government and the Prisons Department seem to be suffering from selective amnesia, as the 1993 Adivaaram landslides -- where close to 100 landslides were reported resulting in the displacement of 71 families -- had occurred just a few metres from the proposed site.

"Any tilling of the soil, construction, felling of trees and surveying will invite landslides and debris-fall within the surrounding valleys as well as in the project site," said Chartered Accountant Joseph V C, a local resident in his complaint to the Director-General of Prisons.

He added that the proposed project will also cordon off the Kurishumala pilgrimage route. He further pointed out that the region witnesses extreme weather and harsh geographical conditions and is unfeasible for construction activities.

What's more? The Geological Survey of India in its Landslide Susceptibility Map of Kurishumala has pointed out that the region is highly prone to landslides and has a history of landslides in the past, especially in 1902, 1958 and 1993.

The authorities have already begun a survey for the project some days ago. Locals allege wide felling of trees as part of the survey.

The residents are now planning to move legally against the project. "It's an ecologically fragile zone and falls in the catchment area of the Meenachil river. Any construction could adversely affect the environment. Hence we are planning to file a Public Interest Litigation before the High Court against the project," said Fr George Vayaliparambil of the Erattupetta Teekoy Mangalari parish.

Meanwhile, the authorities suspect there could be other reasons like encroachment and opposition towards a jail project behind the local opposition. The Prisons Department said the project has not been finalised yet.

"Yes there has been a decision to set up an open jail in the central zone, but nothing has been finalised yet. We have been looking at different options for the project. We checked with the Revenue Department for a suitable area, including the site at Wagamon. Currently, the land is with the Revenue Department. The survey is being carried out by the revenue department. Before handing over the land to the prisons department, the district collector will check all aspects, including whether it is a landslide-prone area," said S Santhosh, DIG, Prisons Headquarters.

Kottayam district collector PK Jayasree said no such issue has come to the district administration's attention. "The disaster-prone areas have been mapped as yellow, orange and red zones. We can verify whether this site falls under a landslide-prone area. Such an issue about this particular area has not been raised before us. We'll now look into it," said the collector.


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