John Peruvanthanam of the Western Ghats Protection Samithi said the delay in publishing the gazette notification listing the wetlands and paddy fields is helping those who want to reclaim the ecologically fragile regions in the district

It took only a few hours for the real estate lobby in Pazhoor near Piravom to fill up large water-filled ditches in over 30 brick kilns under the guise of an order issued by the revenue authorities that the area should be restored in its original condition.

Seven kilometres away from Pazhoor, the once prolific paddy fields in Edakattuvayal have been reclaimed to construct swanky homes and apartments. In the nearby Veliyanad, people let their paddy fields lie fallow for a few months before planting coconut saplings to declare later that the area is unfit for cultivation. Large tracts of paddy fields along the Ernakulam-Muvattupuzha route have been reclaimed to set up brick kilns. Indiscriminate extraction of clay from these regions has led to environmental problems.

From Piravom, Muvattupuzha and Kolencherry to areas including Kothamangalam, Pothanikad, Vazhakulam and Kolencherry, reclamation of paddy fields and wetlands continues to remain active in Ernakulam district, making a mockery of The Kerala Conservation of Paddyland and Wetland Act 2008 and other related regulations.

Stating that the real estate lobby is exploiting the loopholes in the Act, Sojan George, a member of the Nadakkada Vannilam Padasekhara Nellulpadaka Samithi in Piravom, said the revenue authorities would issue directions to the paddy field owners operating brick kilns to fill up the large ditches (formed after excavation of clay) as part of restoring the area to its original condition.

“The real estate lobby will immediately reclaim the entire paddy field based on this order. The police are unable to take action against them as they will always quote the directive issued by the revenue authorities to fill the ditches,” he said.

John Peruvanthanam of the Western Ghats Protection Samithi said the delay in publishing the gazette notification listing the wetlands and paddy fields is helping those who want to reclaim the ecologically fragile regions in the district. “Muscle power and political backing aid the those involved in reclamation of paddy fields and wetland,” he said.

Explaining that people behind reclamation of paddy fields employ several ploys, Raju, a member of the Edakkatuvayal Padasekhara Samithi, said a property owner, who has about 50 cents, will identify nearly 10 individuals from the economically weaker sections and register 5 cents each in their names. When the issue crops up, he will use them to raise the claim that the land was allotted to the landless. Once the controversy loses steam, the original owner will sell the property at the market price to other buyers. The landless may get some money as compensation,” he said.

Elaborating on the ecological impact of reclamation, Joy, a member of the Kakkad Karshika Vikasana Samithi, said many wells have dried up in the region following the rampant filling up of paddy fields and wetlands.

According to the date available with the Agriculture Department, the district has recorded the steepest fall in the area under rice cultivation in the State. It shrunk from 37,433 hectares in 2000-01 to 10,787 hectares during 2009-10. During 2011-12, the total area that came in for paddy cultivation was only 8,427 hectares.

N. V. John, a former drawing teacher from Piravom whose left leg was broken by goons allegedly sent by a group trying to reclaim about five acres of rice paddy in Piravom without government sanction, said protection of paddy fields and wetlands in Ernakulam would remain in paper if the authorities did not act immediately.

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