Row over lease-expired land
The Kerala Congress(M) has given a new twist to the ongoing controversy over takeover of lease-expired land by demanding the renewal of the lease agreements of such tracts.
The demand, made in the context of the Nelliampathy controversy, has virtually forced Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to walk another tightrope within months of doing a balancing act with the induction of the fifth Indian Union Muslim League Minister in his Cabinet.
With a section of the UDF legislators taking a strong position outside the framework of the ruling coalition on the Nelliampathy land issue, Mr. Chandy is finding himself in direct confrontation with the Kerala Congress(M) as well as facing problems in his own party centred around environmental issues related to leased land in the high ranges. The core issue with regard to the takeover of leased-expired land revolves around the question of protecting the interests of settler farmers and the environment.
The Kerala Congress(M) does not want to confine itself to the Nelliampathy issue since the question of what to do with leased land with expired terms is relevant to other tracts in Idukki as well.
The party feels there is a danger for its core constituency if the government takes over the Nelliampathy estates since this would become a yardstick for similar cases elsewhere. This has prompted the party to take a stern position at its recent meetings. Finance Minister KM Mani and Water Resources Minister P.J. Joseph, both belonging to the Kerala Congress(M), met the Chief Minister on Thursday afternoon and made it clear that their party was against harassing settler farmers.
The Congress MLAs who took the initiative to lead a delegation to Nelliampathy were forced to take such a stand allegedly due to the soft positions taken by Mr. Chandy and Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Ramesh Chennithala.
The problem for the Congress leadership is that the environmental aspects raised by the ruling United Democratic Front MLAs have captured attention in civil society. Besides, MLAs V.D. Satheesan and T.N. Pratapan utilised the opportunity they got to present their views before the high command in New Delhi during the course of discussions on party affairs and make out a case for a firm stand on green issues.
As far as Mr. Chandy is concerned, he would have to politically navigate through the maze of controversies over the land issue, without disrupting the precarious unity in the ruling front. The UDF’s leadership meeting slated for Monday has therefore acquired great significance.