VS holds talks with Ministers, Advocate-General

No decision yet on exact nature of amendments

Amendments may be issued as ordinance

thIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The State government is considering amendments to the Kerala Forests (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Lands) Act to retain ecologically fragile areas notified under the ordinances that preceded the Act.

Though Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan held consultations with Forest Minister Benoy Viswom, Revenue Minister K.P. Rajendran and the Advocate-General here on Wednesday on the proposed amendments, the discussions were not conclusive. Decisions remain to be taken on the exact nature of the amendments and their retrospective effect.

Once the decisions are taken, the amendments might be issued as an ordinance.

Plantations

The Act (Bill passed in 2003 and notified in the gazette in 2005), which replaced the original ordinance issued in 2000 and reissued subsequently, makes its mandatory for the custodian of vested areas to reconsider and revise notifications issued under the ordinance if the notified areas are plantations.

This applies to the Merchiston and Ponmudi tea estates in Thiruvananthapuram district which were vested in government in 2001.

(The Forest Department has issued a stop memo against construction activities in the case of the Ponmudi estate.)

Even under the ordinance, only forested areas could be vested in government without payment of compensation.

Exclusion

The Act specifically excluded tea and other estates from definition of forests that can be notified as ecologically fragile area under Section 3 of the Act. (Section 4 provides for vesting of any area with payment of compensation). The Ponmudi and Merchiston estates were notified under Section 3. As per a Supreme Court verdict, an area vested in government would remain vested in government even if the ordinance lapsed.

Grey area

However, the saving and repeal close, adopted by the Assembly in 2003, left the issue of continued vesting of plantations under Section 3 in a legally grey area.

(But the Land Reforms Act does not permit conversion of large plantations for other uses).

The clause says that no land other than the ecologically fragile land as defined in the Act, whether notified under sub-section (3) of Section 3 of the ordinance or not, shall be deemed to have vested or ever to have vested in government and every notification issued in respect of any land under the section shall be scrutinised by the custodian suo moto or on application made by the owner or any person having the right of possession or enjoyment of such land, and if necessary, such notification shall be revised and issued in accordance with the provisions of this Act.

The government would now have to decide whether to bring tea and other plantations under the purview of Section 3.

Modification

It would also have to consider modification of the saving and repeal clause.

The amendment to the Act is one of the counter measures planned by the Left Democratic Front government against Opposition campaign over the Indian Space Research Organisation-Merchiston estate deal.

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