Nelliampathy planters began to pay revised rent only recently

The plunder of forest wealth in Nelliampathy has brought almost nothing to the State exchequer as the annual rent received from 9,490 acres of leased forestland here is only Rs.8.3 lakh.

Raju Francis, Divisional Forest Officer, Nemmara, said that during the past five years, the total amount received as lease rent from the Nelliampathy estates was only Rs.43 lakh.

This amount is after the rent was revised from the 50 paise-Rs.50 range to Rs.1,300 for an hectare.

Though the lease rent was revised in 1995, the planters got it stayed by the government and through court orders. They started paying the rent only in the past couple of years, Mr. Francis said.

The government, which faced the problem of losing crores of rupees annually as rent from nearly 2 lakh hectares of leased forestland in the State, had brought an Act in 1980 and passed it in the Assembly with the Opposition also supporting it.

Though the Kerala Grant and Lease (Modification Rights) Act was passed by the Assembly, it took another 10 years for the Forest Department to frame rules under the Act and publish it as Government Order.

Though it was published in the Gazette, the then Forest Secretary R. Ramachandran Nair intervened and issued a stay in 1990 on a petition from the Planters Association pointing out certain anomalies in the rule.

The ‘status report’ on the state of affairs of the 10,042 acres of reserved forestland leased out to private individuals for cultivating coffee and cardamom by the erstwhile rulers of Kochi and Kollengode in 1997 after large-scale felling of trees in Nelliampathy revealed that the State earned only a meagre revenue from the huge area developed as estates.

It showed that the State government received only Rs.15,84,812 from 1863 to 1996 by way of rent for 9,490 acres that was leased out. Of this, Rs.9,58,236 was for 5,300 acres leased out for 21 estates under quit rent lease, and Rs.6,26,576 for an area of 4,190 acres leased out as forest lease.

Such was the influence the estate owners wielded with successive governments that the annual rent for an acre of leased land was not revised even once during these 133 years. It remained between 50 paisa and Rs.50 for an acre till recently, the status report prepared by the Nemmara DFO and the Chittur tahsildar in 1997 said.

At the same time, the annual rent on the forestland used by government organisations such as the Kerala State Forest Development Corporation, Plantation Corporation of Kerala Ltd., Rehabilitation Plantation, Kerala State Electricity Board, and Malabar Cements Ltd., had been revised in between to the present level of Rs.1,300 for an hectare annually.

Trees, including those in the wind belt, felled by some estate owners fetched them crores of rupees.

The 81-page confidential report titled ‘Details about free felling in Nelliampathy’ also revealed that the State exchequer was getting only Rs.9,85,525 as plantation tax from 39 estates spread over an area of 10,042 acres of forestland in Nelliampathy.

  • State got Rs.15,84,812 as rent in 133 years

  • Rs.9,85,525 as plantation tax from estates