Girish Menon

Government has resumed only 15 acres of land so far

25,000 acres encroached upon

Temples in Malabar are the biggest losers

Thiruvananthapuram: The State government's attempts to recover temple lands encroached upon by various parties appear to be moving at a very slow pace. Out of the 25,000-odd acres of identified encroached land, only 15 acres have been recovered by evicting the current occupants even though an elaborate mechanism has been appointed to deal with these cases for individual Devaswoms.

Malabar temples, which were under the Hindu Religious and Endowment Department till the formation of the Malabar Devaswom Board, are the biggest losers. According to official figures, more than 24,900 acres of land belonging to 353 temples under the Malabar Devaswom Board has been encroached upon.

In the case of Travancore Devaswom Board, more than 500 acres of land belonging to 525 temples (out of the 1,210 temples under the board) have been occupied by various parties. In addition, the TDB is saddled with 160 cases related to encroachments, but has not been able to make much headway due to several obstacles, including absence of land records that has prevented measurement and surveys.

245 temples in Kochi

Official records show that 245 temples under the Kochi Devaswom Board have also lost land to encroachment, but the extent of land lost has not yet fully been calculated. Guruvayur and Koodalmanikyam Devaswoms have lost 2.50 acres and one acre of land respectively.

The effort to recover alienated land belonging to the temples began in 2006 when the State government launched a massive eviction campaign in Munnar and elsewhere.

An elaborate mechanism to identify encroached land and recover it had been established, but only 15 acres of land has been recovered so far, according to official government figures.

The government appointed a Land Special Officer to identify encroached temple lands belonging to the Travancore Devaswom Board in July 2007 and a special tahsildar with the powers of District Collector under the 1957 Kerala Land Alienation Act in October 2008. For the Guruvayur Devaswom, the Thrissur District Collector was entrusted with the job of recovering land belonging to the Devaswom.

In the case of Malabar temples, the government adopted a different mechanism. It appointed a special team for various divisions under retired officials of the rank of Deputy Collector who functioned under the HR & C department. The team has become defunct after the establishment of the Malabar Devaswom Board. The main task of the team was to measure the land in possession of temples, construct boundary walls or fences and trace and set right land records.

The government appointed a special tahsildar under the Kerala Land Conservancy Act to recover encroached land for the Kochi Devaswom Board and a tahsildar and a surveyor for the Koodalmanikyam Devaswom.

So far, the government has recovered 6.12 acres belonging to the TDB, 1.05 acres belonging to Guruvayur, 3.35 acres belonging to Malabar, 2 hectares belonging to Kochi Devaswom and 45 cents belonging to Koodalmanikyam, according to official figures.

Sources pointed out that there were several hurdles in getting the land back.

One of the main issues related to lack of proper land records. In several cases, the survey work had been stalled owing to disputes and other obstacles.

Unless the State government launches a special drive, it would be difficult to get the land back for these temples, some of which are in financial crisis.

Many of these temples are dependent on financial assistance from the Devaswoms to carry out the daily pujas even. According to official figures, the TDB and Malabar Devaswom doled out Rs. 5 crore each for rehabilitation of various temples and conduct of daily pujas in 2009-10. The Kochi Devaswom provided Rs. 9 crore while the Guruvayur Devaswom extended assistance of Rs.1.50 crore.