Special Correspondent

Forest Minister says the land transaction is illegal

80.1 acres sold to ISRO to set up IIST

Estate was notified as ‘ecologically fragile land’

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan has convened a meeting of the Ministers concerned, officials of the State Government and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) here on September 6 to discuss the controversy surrounding sale of 80.1 acres of land from the Merchiston Estate in the district to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for setting up the Indian Institute of Space Technology (IIST).

The decision to hold the meeting has been taken in the light of a letter written to the Chief Minister by Forest Minister Benoy Viswom pointing out that the land transaction was irregular and requesting that steps be taken to find out if there had been any foul play and to ensure that the State did not lose the IIST.

Legal position

The Minister has explained in detail the legal position and why the Forest Department considers the transaction irregular.

He has also made it clear that the Forest Department does not wish to stand in the way of the IIST.

The estate in question was notified as ‘ecologically fragile land’ under the provisions of the Kerala Forests (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Lands) Ordinance in 2000-’01 as, under provisions of the Ordinance, ‘tea estate’ also came under the definition of forests.

However, when the Ordinance was replaced with the Kerala Forests (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Lands) Act of 2003, tea estates were exempted from the definition of forests.

Section 19 (3) (a) of the Act states that ‘No land other than ecologically fragile land as defined in the Act, whether notified under Sub-Section 3 of Section 3 of the said (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Lands) Ordinance or not, shall be deemed to have vested or ever to have been vested in Government’.

However, in sub-clause Section 19 (3) (b), it is stated that ‘Every notification issued in respect of any land under Sub-Section 3 of Section 3 of the said Ordinance shall be scrutinised by the custodian suo motu or on application by any person having right of possession or enjoyment of such land and, if necessary, such notification shall be reversed and issued in accordance with the provisions of this Act.’

The Forest Department has pointed out that the procedures envisaged in the Act were not observed before the land transaction took place.

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