Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday that an all-party meeting would be held to discuss the findings of the three-member committee deputed by the government to look into the complaints of people about the Kasturiranagan committee report on Western Ghats.
The State government will submit its views to the Central government on the basis of the deliberations at the meeting and get them accepted by the Centre, the Chief Minister told the media after the Cabinet meeting.
The committee will visit all areas proposed by members of the Assembly and Parliament from November 26 to December 5 and interact with all concerned. There will also be time for consultations and for organisations to make representations to the committee.
Mr. Chandy said that the ecologically fragile lands (EFL) and ecologically sensitive areas (ESA) were different concepts under different laws. However, people had confused the two concepts and this had raised concerns. While the State Act on ecologically fragile lands was enforced by the Forest Department, the ecologically sensitive areas declared under Central Environment (Protection) Act would be administered by the Revenue Department and the State Pollution Control Board. The ESA included patta lands as well as land eligible for titles.
Mr Chandy said some officials had spread the impression that the declaration of ESA would alter land rights and others had refused to accept land tax and caused hurdles in transfer of ownership, cutting of trees and pledging of land for availing loans. This had caused concerns among people. The government viewed this seriously. Action would be taken against officials if any complaint was received about officials not accepting tax or creating other hurdles. There were no changes in the existing rules regarding registration of sale of lands, payment of land tax, pledging of land and permits for cutting of trees on private lands and constructing buildings.
He said that the Centre had already accepted that there were procedural lapses in demarcating ESAs. Demarcation using remote sensing had resulted in villages such as Melukavu, Teekoy and Poonjar-Thekkekkara, with not forests but rubber plantations, getting listed as ESAs. This and similar errors in population estimates would be corrected. Besides, the State government wanted demarcations to be done within the villages also. That would exclude many areas from ESAs.
Replying to questions, the Chief Minister said that the government’s interests would be protected regarding the proposed Aranmula airport for which the Centre had given environmental clearance. There was no communal issue in the development of the airport. Already some of the paddy fields in the project area had been filled up. Further filling would be permitted only in area needed for runway and airport facilities. All permissions for the airport project were given by the previous government.