The Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) said here on Tuesday that at least 194 acres of ecologically fragile wetlands and paddy fields in Kerala have been illegally reclaimed to construct commercial buildings in the past five years.
Additional Director General of Police, VACB, R. Srilekha, who coordinated the special drive code-named ‘Operation Wetlands,’ said the findings were “just the tip of the iceberg.”
The police officer said her teams had cross-checked wetland and paddy field databanks maintained in 175 village offices with land records kept at agricultural offices in the same places. They also made spot assessments.
Anti-corruption investigators said their preliminary checks revealed that Revenue and Agriculture department officials, along with committees comprising elected local body representatives, had colluded with those who illegally converted wetlands into covetable real estate in 149 places.
The landowners had submitted fabricated reports claiming that their property had been reclaimed prior to the enactment of the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act, 2008. The authorities accepted the fake reports as genuine ones to help the landowners circumvent the provisions of the law.
As a result, large swathes of fast receding wetlands in the State were converted into resorts, private college campuses, pig and poultry farms, marriage halls, bar hotels, fuel outlets, shopping malls, marble and tile stockyards, and expansive apartment complexes.
In all the places the violations were noticed, the VACB found no official record of any Agriculture or Revenue department official or local body representative having objected to the illegal reclamation of land or subsequent construction activities.
At Cheranalloor in Kollam, a VACB team found that a resort owner drew power at the subsidised rate meant for farmers to water a 1.5-acre wetland he had illegally reclaimed and subsequently landscaped with trees, ornamental plants, and manicured lawns to attract business. The VACB registered a case of power theft against the resort owner.
In many places, water and power connections and building permits were obtained illegally.
The ADGP said she recommended registration of cases in all the instances. The VACB would recommend disciplinary action where necessary. Director General of Police, VACB, Mahesh Kumar Singhla ordered the operation.