Chief Minister says the law was not in panel mandate

Members of the Oommen V. Oommen panel, which has come under fire for its recommendation to abolish the Ecologically Fragile Land (EFL) legislation, defend their decision even as Chief Minister Oommen Chandy says the law had been not been in the panel’s mandate.

The panel recommended that the Kerala Forest (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Lands) Act be scrapped so that no landholding is taken over in future. The legislation, it said, had achieved its legal goals and let the courts decide on the pending cases.

Mr. Chandy informed the Assembly on Monday that the law was not in the mandate of the panel, which was constituted for suggesting measures to alleviate the fears of people over the implementation of the K. Kasturirangan committee report on the Western Ghats.

The Chief Minister’s statement has provided enough ammunition to those who oppose the views of the panel.

Dr. Oommen said the report reflected the sentiments of the people.

He said many feared that their holdings would be taken over by the government after ecologically sensitive area (ESAs) were notified as recommended by the Kasturirangan committee. They feared that ESAs would later be converted into EFL.

The Chief Minister was correct in stating that the EFL law was not in the mandate of the panel. The committee did not intentionally overstep its mandate, but was reflecting the concern of the masses. The government could decide on the recommendations of the panel, Dr. Oommen said.

Apprehensions

P.C. Cyriac, a member of the panel, said that people disbelieved the government on the EFL issue and issue of title deeds. There was general apprehension that the government would eventually take over the land after declaring it ESA. There had been a disconnect between the government and the people over the issue for some time.

He said the committee had been asked to look into the grievances of the people following the recommendations of the Kasturirangan committee report and suggest mitigation measures. The recommendations against the EFL law were justified as the panel was suggesting a mitigation measure for the fears expressed by the people.

V.N. Rajasekharan Pillai, member of the panel, had early publically stated that the EFL law was not in the mandate of the committee. However, when contacted,

Dr. Rajasekharan Pillai said he stood by the collective decision and the recommendations of the panel.

Resignation demanded

T.N. Pratapan, MLA, demanded the resignation of Mr. Oommen as Chairman of the Kerala State Biodiversity Board for the committee’s views on the EFL law. Only those committed to protecting biodiversity, spreading environment awareness and respecting the law can hold the post, he said in a letter to the Chief Minister.

Mr. Pratapan, who took up the issue with the Chief Minister on Monday, demanded that the panel’s report be scrapped.

V.S. Vijayan, former Chairman of the board, felt it was inappropriate for a panel headed by the board’s Chairman to give a recommendation against the EFL law. If implemented, the report would lead to releasing of large tracts of ecologically fragile land to mindless exploitation. The recommendations would help only those owning big holdings. The panel went out of the way to protect the interest of owners of large holdings.

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