P. Venugopal

Directive applies to lake, road encroachments also

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The State Government has given instructions to District Collectors not to evict encroachers who had taken illegal possession of forest land prior to October 2005.

This instruction was conveyed to the Collectors at a meeting convened by the Public Administration (Coordination) Department at the Government Guest House here on November 24 and 25, 2005.

According to the minutes of the meeting, a copy of which was obtained by The Hindu , the instruction also applies to road and lake encroachments.

To quote from the minutes, "The Collectors shall [initiate steps to] evict road, lake and forest encroachments that had taken place within the last one month and ensure that encroachments do not take place in future. No action need be taken in the case of very old encroachments immediately."

From the way the instruction is framed, it is clear that, in the Government's perception, "very old encroachments" include encroachments that had taken place as recently as one month prior to the meeting in the last week of November 2005.

Even encroachments as recent as in October 2005 shall not be disturbed, according to this directive.

In its affidavits in various forest encroachment cases (including some recent ones) in the Supreme Court, the State Government had submitted that its policy is to "evict all post-January 1, 1977 encroachments in forest land."

It was following such an undertaking that the Union Government had allowed the State to regularise all forest encroachments that had taken place prior to 1977. This regularisation exercise, done in 1993, covered an extent of 28,588.589 hectares of forest land.

Another application from the State Government for the regularisation of encroachments in 5,700 hectares of forest land is now before the Supreme Court and the Union Government.

The State's claim is that these encroachments too had taken place before 1977, but were not included in the earlier application that was favourably disposed of by the Union Government in 1993.

The Chief Secretary of the State, in an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court's Empowered Committee (for environment-related matters) in 2002, had stated that forest encroachments over an estimated area of 10,038 hectares were "ineligible" for regularisation.

In other words, the State Government itself had admitted that post January 1, 1977, encroachments over so much extent of forest land had come to its notice.

Encroachments have been continuing subsequent to 2002 with unprecedented vigour. In September 2005, the Empowered Committee had submitted before the Supreme Court a report describing in graphic detail the land grabbing operation in the forests of Kerala with the patronage and even direct involvement of top politicians in the State.

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