The State Cabinet on Wednesday decided to notify more than 17,000 acres in the Kannan Devan Hills (KDH) of the Munnar forest division as reserve forest.
It is understood that the notification will cover 17,066 acres against the initial proposal of 17,349.90 acres. However, there is no clear indication as to when the notification will be issued. The notification will exclude 283.42 acres in the 26th block of the Kuttiar valley which has been set apart for distribution among landless Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and plantation workers.
Though Forest Minister Benoy Viswom had pushed the proposal for notification before the Cabinet several times during the past three years, a decision could not be taken because of opposition from Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, other Ministers and local leaders of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Munnar. The Chief Minister, who wanted much of the area to be set apart for assignment among the poor and for public purposes, eventually relented. The Cabinet was impressed upon the obligation on the part of the government to notify the area in view of the commitments it had made before the Supreme Court.
The government had issued orders for transfer of 17,922 acres to the Forest Department between 1977 and 1988 on the basis of the proceedings of the Kerala Land Board in 1974. The Forest Department raised plantations in some of those areas. The rest of the forests has patches of high-altitude shola forests and grasslands, a unique ecosystem in the high altitudes of the State. However, the area has not been notified as reserve forest.
In October 2008, a Cabinet subcommittee decided to process 17,349.9 acres of the 17,922 acres for notification. But, the proposal faced several hurdles including opposition from the Idukki Collector. It was claimed that some of the area had been squatted upon by settlers. Consequently, the Cabinet deferred its decision, and the proposal had to go through the LDF State committee and Idukki district committee.
Meanwhile, a team from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests that visited the area recommended notification of the area. A high-level committee appointed by the State government found that there were no settlers in the area proposed to be notified and recommended immediate notification. Noting that there were no legal hurdles for the notification, the committee concluded unanimously that the notification was essential to save forest cover and prevent encroachment.
It is understood that the government is planning to notify the area as reserve in lieu of forests being diverted for non-forestry purposes. This would require approval of the Union Ministry.