Violation of lease agreements and conservation norms

The government took over the 283-acre Shernelly Lower Estate in Nelliampathy Hills on Saturday on the charge of violating lease conditions and the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

The government order of November 9 reached the Forest Department office here on Friday and officials led by Nemmara Divisional Officer (DFO) C.T. Joju and Nelliampathy Range Officer Sujith took over the estate on Saturday.

The DFO told The Hindu that there was no resistance from the occupants while taking over the estate. The estate was resumed because they had violated the lease conditions and sold the land in small pieces violating the law. The occupants had also pledged the government property to banks and taken huge loans, the DFO said.

Mr. Joju said that earlier the 28-acre Shernelly Upper Estate was taken over under the Ecologically Fragile Land Act by the Forest Department. The department had recommended the takeover of 27 estates following violations of lease conditions and the Forest Conservation Act. Out of these, six were taken over and for the remaining, government orders were awaited, he said.

A verification of lease documents revealed that 27 of the total 52 estates in Nelliampathy had violated lease agreements and the conservation Act. A report sent by the then Nemmara Divisional Forest Officer P. Dhanesh Kumar to the Chief Conservator of Forests, Olavakkode, on June 13 said that the estate authorities had violated the lease conditions and transferred leased out land to other persons after the promulgation of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

The violation of lease agreements and the conservation Act would result in the cancellation of the lease and resumption of the land, the DFO said.

Reserve forest

The total extent of the 52 estates in Nelliampathy comes to 9,007.84 acres. Out of this, 32 estates with an area of 3,700.60 acres are forest lease and the remaining 20 estates with 53,027.24 acres are quit rent lease. The forest land was given on lease between 1863 and 1962. The leased out areas were declared reserve forest by the Cochin Government through notifications on May 8, 1909 and February 11, 1933. They were given only to cultivate coffee and cardamom but now they were used for cultivating other crops, including rubber.

The lessor (government) kept the right over the soil, all running water beyond the quantity necessary for the working and workers of the estate and also the right of collection and removal of minor forest produce, mineral laterite or other similar substances, timber and firewood.

Most of these estates had abandoned plantation and were engaged in promoting tourism, converting even the labour lines (‘paddies') as resorts. This is also a violation of the law because using the forestland for non-forestry purposes like tourism required permission from the Central government, the forest officials said.