316 families were displaced from seven villages for the prestigious ICTT at Vallarpadam

“It is a matter of shame for a civilised society to still condemn these families who had sacrificed all their hard-earned belongings for a prestigious project, to a sub-human existence.” This was how the fact investigation committee headed by K. Sukumaran, former Kerala High Court judge, started its report on the rehabilitation process of families displaced for the prestigious International Container Transshipment Terminal at Vallarpadam.

But this is the reality for not just the 316 families displaced from seven villages, but to almost all families displaced for development projects. All the chest-thumping lectures of sacrifices made for the greater common good fizzle out when it comes to rehabilitating families who have lost their roofs.

Interesting factors about this apathy towards ensuring a decent living for these hapless families has no political colour to it. Irrespective of the government at the helm, the issues of the displaced continue to be the same.

Delay in rehabilitation of the families moved for the ICTT project had got political overtones when it was used against the LDF-led government during the last Assembly elections. The UDF-led government that followed held a big show of the rehabilitation process by giving away some of the title deeds with much fanfare. However, the realities did not change much.

“Lack of political will and wrongly placed priorities could be reasons behind this lackadaisical attitude. In the case of Moolamppilly, the rehabilitation package was approved by the Union and State governments and judiciary, but district administration failed to implement it,” said Francis Kalathunkal, the general convenor of the coordination committee for those displaced for development projects.

Greenfield airport

The situation is not much different in the case of the acquisition process for Cochin International Airport Limited, the country’s first Greenfield airport. The process entailed one of the biggest-ever land acquisition process in the district.

The acquisition started in 1993 and by the time it was completed (towards the end of the decade) 1,275 acres were taken over from close to 2,000-odd landowners. Of this, 822 families lost their houses and were awarded a rehabilitation package along with the promise of a job in the airport company to at least one member from each of these families.

While some were directly recruited by CIAL depending on their educational qualifications, the rest were ensured some avenues of livelihood by way of taxi permit, shops in the airport premises etc., airport sources said. A.K. Nazeer, president of the Shareholders Organisation of CIAL (SOCIAL), said that 53 more claims for jobs are yet to be met.

Higher rate

Under the rehabilitation package, 70-80 per cent of the families who lost their homes were given six cents each, compensation for their lost houses, and shifting charges of Rs. 20,000. Thirty different categories of land value were fixed based on the type of land. Prices started at about Rs. 3,500 a cent for paddy land which, some among the displaced admit, was higher than the then prevailing market rate.

In between, there was a demand to return the excess land acquired by the airport to the landowners.

Though not on such a mammoth scale, the proposed SmartCity Kochi also involved acquisition of considerable tract of land. While 100 out of the 246 acres were handed over by the KSEB, the rest were acquired from individual landowners.

Model package

The rehabilitation package awarded to 58 families came to be regarded as model for future acquisitions. Land value was fixed based on its quality and position while each family was given at least six cents each. Compensation was given for the lost home in addition to shifting charges to transfer their demolished homes to the rehabilitation land. The displaced families were, however, not fully satisfied about land preparation and the delay in ensuring water and road connectivity. Meanwhile, another four families, whose 19 cents remain to be acquired, have demanded rehabilitation adjacent to the project site as opposed to a relatively distant village as suggested by the district administration.

On the other hand, land acquisition for the Kochi metro rail project is going ahead without too many hassles, because of cooperation from most land owners. The Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) has fixed December as the deadline for acquiring the land required for widening narrow roads into four-lane ones, building the metro stations, parking lots and also the coach-repair yard at Muttom near Aluva.

The district administration has to take possession of many of the lands that have been acquired. “The acquisition process for a few cents of land required for widening the North overbridge could be completed on time because of cooperation from land owners. A few owners have demanded more compensation for their land in the MG Road and the Jos Junction-South Railway Station stretch,” said sources associated with land acquisition. The district-level purchase committee had fixed Rs. 40 lakh as the maximum compensation payable for prime land acquired in the two roads, whereas a few land owners are demanding Rs. one crore.

One of the main reason for this dichotomy in the acquisition and rehabilitation process, it is pointed out, could be that the same set of administrators are involved in both the processes. “In the case of Moolamppilly eviction, the district administration took an almost antagonistic stand towards the victims. The State government responded by giving good service entry to all the officials and the same set of officials were asked to handle the rehabilitation process as well,” said Mr. Kalathunkal.

At the end of the day, the civilised society seems not to have much shame about pushing some families to the periphery of priorities, after snatching their homes.

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