Roy Mathew

To make up for reserve forests given for Sabarimala development To make up for reserve forests given for Sabarimala development

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The State Government is yet to hand over land earmarked for compensatory afforestation to the Forest Department in lieu of reserve forests given for Sabarimala development.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said last year that part of the land at Kadavari, cleared of ganja cultivation, would be handed over for afforestation.

Ganja had been cleared of about 600 hectares of land classified as `revenue forests' under the Revenue Department. Initially, about 125 hectares of it was to be transferred to the Forest Department. Though the Idukki Collector issued an order in this respect, it was cancelled. Now, the Forest Department is being offered nearby wattle plantations for compensatory afforestation, and this is being objected to by the department.

The wattle actually stands on land under the Revenue Department, though the Forest Department had planted it there years ago. The Government has sought an explanation in this regard from the Forest Department.

The Kadvari area had been cleared of ganja under direct orders from the then Forest Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan and the Chief Minister. This was a significant achievement of the Government, though cultivation shifted to the Attappady area. As the Forest Department led the operation, the area is now under its supervision. The department has set up two forest stations and constructed trekking paths to keep ganja cultivators at bay. If the land were handed over, the department would be able to nurse back these degraded forests to health. Planting may not be required.

The area has significant conservation value, as it lies close to the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary and the Eravikulam National Park. Animals from the sanctuary often stray into these areas. The ganja cultivators often used to hunt them down.

The area is the abode of kurinji plants, which flowers once in 12 years.

The Government is planning a highway through the nearby hills to connect Munnar to Kodaickanal, with the stated objective of promoting tourism. Though a surfaced but closed road already exists, the Government has chosen to build a new road instead of developing the old one. The planters of the area, who include some encroachers, will be the main beneficiaries of this decision. Land values have shot up after the plan for the new road was announced.

The Vattavada panchayat has already constructed a mud road that connects the village to Kodaickanal. However, there may be problems in aligning the highway along this road because of the steep climbs. The road helped in checking the ganja cultivators. However, it may open up the area for fresh encroachments, especially because the area is still under the Revenue Department.