Nearly 1,000 farmers likely to get back some 500 hectares
Over a thousand farmers are likely to get back their holdings, together coming to around 500 hectares, vested with the government on being declared ecologically fragile land (EFL).
The Forest Department will have to return chunks of land on the fringes of the forests in cases in which appeals against the vesting are found true. Ninety per cent of the processing of the appeals has been completed.
The government had taken possession of 14,049 hectares of land from farmers following the enactment of the Kerala Forest (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Land) Act, 2003. The Act was later amended to permit farmers to submit the appeals.
As the deadline ended on February 20, 2010, the government received 1,055 appeals. Nearly 300 of them were rejected, as they were found incomplete and devoid of merits. The rest were being subjected to field verifications.
The primary evaluation of the appeals was done at the level of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest and field verifications at the level of the Divisional Forest Office.
Under the amendment, any landowner who possessed not more than five acres (two hectares) of land as on June 2, 2000 and whose holdings were notified as EFL could appeal against the decision to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests. A time frame of six months from August 2009 was fixed for appeals in the case of vesting between 2000 and 2009.
Around four per cent of the vested land may have to be returned. The divisional-level evaluation of the applications is expected to be completed within six months. A government order will be required to release the holdings back to the farmers, officials said.
The government introduced the Act for taking over ecologically fragile land for the maintenance of the ecological balance and conserving biodiversity. Such land was defined “as any forest land or any portion lying contiguous to or encircled by a reserve forest or a forest or any other forest land owned by the government and predominantly supporting natural vegetation.”
It was in Palakkad that the largest extent of land — 5,209 hectares — was taken over, followed by Wayanad (2,688 hectares), Malappuram (1,264 hectares), and Idukki (1,255 hectares).
Pressure is mounting on the government for receiving fresh appeals from farmers in some districts on the ground that they did not come to know of the amendment at the right time. However, the government has not taken a policy decision on these requests, officials said.