Allowing transfer of titles of settlers on forest lands will encourage encroachment of forest land besides upsetting the ecology of the State, warned ecologists.

The State Cabinet had decided on Wednesday to amend laws to permit the transfer of titles given to settlers on forestlands which were encroached before January 1, 1977. The government had earlier incorporated a provision that the land should not be sold.

V.S. Vijayan, former chairman of the Kerala State Biodiversity Board, said the decision would benefit the land mafia in the State who had been eying the ecologically sensitive areas of the State.

The land use patterns of these holdings would be altered drastically. This would leave an impact on the climate and ecology of the State. It will also deepen the impacts of climate change in the State, he cautioned.

Tony Thomas, an environmental activist, said the decision cannot be justified as the settlers were allowed title deeds exclusively for agriculture, their livelihood option. Land mafia, the beneficiaries of the decision, will start purchasing the holdings from the very next day of allowing the rights.

The government was abetting the law breakers who illegally settled on forest land. The decision will be legally challenged, he said.

Harish Vasudevan, an environmentalist, said the decision would help the settlers who had converted large tracts of forest land into agricultural land in Idukki, Wayanad, Pathanamthitta, Kollam and Malappuram districts to sell off their holdings. It will also permit the sale of 28,588 hectares of land in the ecologically sensitive Cardamom Hill Reserve to builders and resorts, he pointed out.

Illegal constructions

A prominent ecologist, who preferred not be quoted, said the decision would weaken the government’s case against illegal resorts that have come up in many parts of Idukki district including the Cardamom Hill Reserve.

The owners of these resorts were finding it difficult to fight the legal battle against the demolition of their buildings for want of title deeds. The government move will help these unauthorised constructions to obtain legally valid documents thus defeating the drive against illegal constructions in ecologically important areas, he said.

“The decision to allow title deeds to encroachers and settlers could be justified to some extent on humanitarian grounds.

“However, there is no justification for permitting them to sell the holdings as it will serve as an incentive for further encroachment of public land. Recently, the State authorities had identified fresh encroachment of forest land in as many as 14,000 hectares”, he said.

Idukki is already hit by erratic rainfall patterns and rise in average temperature, which has been highlighted in a report prepared by renowned agriculturalist M.S. Swaminathan as a prelude to the Idukki package.

“The government decision will lead to the radical modification of the land use pattern of Idukki and aggravate the climate crisis”, he warned.

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