THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Local agitations masterminded by encroachers are delaying the settlement and final notification of the Kurinjimala Sanctuary in Idukki district.
The Sub-Collector of Devikulam had issued a notification on May 9 last year for considering any claims of the local population before finalising the boundaries of the sanctuary. Though one year has passed, the settlement could not be completed because of the protests, including a month-long dharna in front of the Sub-Collector’s office. The Sub-Collector has convened a meeting of people concerned on Tuesday to discuss the issue. The official notification on the sanctuary, issued in 2006, had excluded land with title deeds in the Vattavada and Kottakambur villages of the district from the notified area of 3,200 hectares. As such, about 40 families in the Mannavannur area and farmers in the Koviloor and Vattavada areas are not to lose their rights on land.
However, a number of bigwigs, including political leaders, have encroached land in the notified area. Some of these areas are being used for eucalyptus cultivation without any genuine title deeds for the land. Some have bogus documents secured with the help of some revenue officials.
Hence, the squatters have incited genuine title-holders to agitate against the settlement. Demands have been made for the larger extend of land claiming that the original settlers of these areas practiced shifting cultivation. (Shifting cultivation had been banned before Independence). This could not be legally conceded though Forest Minister Benoy Viswom had promised to take that into account at a meeting convened by him to discuss the issue last year. The Forest Department officials are divided over granting rights to people without genuine title deeds.
Meanwhile, moves are also being made to develop a highway through the sanctuary so that both the genuine title-holders and squatters could benefit from appreciation in land value.
This was one of the first announcements made when Kerala Congress leader T.U. Kuruvila became the Public Works Minister. (He had to resign subsequently following allegations over a land deal.) The squatters are reportedly confident that they could secure the land in their possession owing to their political influence. The local panchayat had cut a mud road through the sanctuary area before it was notified.
The sanctuary is the habitat of Kurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) and many other species of plants specific to the Shola grasslands. The Shola grasslands in the area, which is important in the conservation of water, had been heavily damaged by planting eucalyptus and black wattle. This in turn had affected the farmers.