Special Correspondent

KOZHIKODE: The Farmers’ and Farm Workers’ Welfare and Land Protection Committee has alleged that Forest Minister Benoy Viswom is misleading the public by saying that land measuring up to five acres (two hectares) owned by farmers will be excluded from the provision of the Kerala Forest (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Lands) Act with the Assembly passing an amendment Bill.

In a statement here on Monday, Shaji Kokkadan, general secretary of the committee, which has been campaigning against the law, said the Minister’s statement was wrong. It was doubtful if the farmers would get a fair deal since, under the provisions of the law, the authority to grant permission to them to keep up to five acres was vested with an expert committee dominated by officials of the Forest Department.

He alleged that ecologically fragile land was vaguely defined in the Act and, hence, any land could be brought within its ambit. Even land where banana, ginger and vegetable were grown was not exempted, though a majority of the farmers who had land measuring less than five acres were those growing such crops on their property.

The farmers were required under the law to file their complaints before the Chief Conservator of Forests in Thiruvananthapuram, requiring travel for long distances from their hillside homes.

Mr. Kokkadan said that the Forest Minister would come under heavy pressure from within his party, the Communist Party of India, since a number of farmers affected by the legislation were its members.

“The land already taken over should be returned to the farmers. The Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963, could be a model for new legislation to save the farmers affected by the EFL Act. That is the only solution to this problem,” Mr. Kokkadan said.