He sees a link between his exit and forestland lease issue

Did the Nelliampathy forestland lease issue cost K.B. Ganesh Kumar dear?

Announcing his resignation as Minister in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday midnight, K.B. Ganesh Kumar was categorical that he was paying the price for his fight against corruption in forestland-related issues.

Reacting to the resignation, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy left no one in doubt about his impression: interference of outside forces in the events that led to the exit of his Forest Minister.

In fact, Mr. Ganesh Kumar is not the first Minister to lose his job on the contentious forestland issue. It had claimed the scalp of the late P.R. Kurup way back in 1998. The then Forest Minister in the E.K. Nayanar-headed Left Democratic Front (LDF) government found his way out when his detractors in the then Janata Party accused him of helping encroachment of forest and compounding of four forest violation cases at Nelliampathy by a leading estate owner.

Present row

The present controversy began with the irrepressible Government Chief Whip P.C. George writing to the Chief Minister on January 24, 2012 to stay the Forest Department’s order to take over the lease-violated 250 acres of the Shernelly estate at Nelliampathy.

Also, Mr. George wanted a high-power committee of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) to examine the forestland lease issue at Nelliampathy, known for its cool hills and precious rainforests, a major habitat for many endangered species of the Western Ghats.

Mr. George’s action, favouring forestland leaseholders who allegedly violated the lease agreement with the government and the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, triggered a major political upheaval in the ruling front.

An open war of words that followed between Mr. George and Mr. Ganesh Kumar left the ruling dispensation in a fix.

Subcommittee

Soon, the UDF constituted a subcommittee headed by M.M. Hassan to find a way out of the vexed question — only to see still larger issues such as ‘green politics’ staring it in the face. Perhaps, for the fist time since the 1970s when the Silent Valley issue took centre stage in Kerala politics.

Mr. Hassan left the panel halfway through after a bunch of ‘green legislators’ got themselves involved in the issue.

And the mantle fell on Janadhipathya Samrakshana Samithy leader A.N. Rajan Babu and the panel, in its report, wanted the government to look at the legal angle while taking a decision.

The green lawmakers, five of them, sought to give an environment angle to the whole issue and after a visit to Nelliampathy found that the controversial Shernelly estate was, in fact, forestland and that the Chief Whip was acting against the UDF government’s policy that no forestland would be alienated or allowed to be encroached.

Meanwhile, the Forest Department has taken over seven forest-leased estates at Nelliampathy for violating the lease agreement.

Very recently, the department has recommended to the government to issue notice to take over 31 estates found violating the lease agreement.

The matter is now pending with the government. Senior Forest Department officials here feel that Mr. Ganesh Kumar’s resignation may delay the takeover of these 31 estates.

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