Special Correspondent

Alleges blockade of KPCC team in Ponmudi

Seeks CBI probe into Ponmudi land deal

Says blockade has backing of LDF

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Ramesh Chennithala has demanded the resignation of Forest Minister Benoy Viswom and a CBI probe into the Ponmudi land deal.

Addressing a press conference here on Wednesday, Mr. Chennithala protested against the alleged blockade imposed on his delegation during its visit to Ponmudi by a group of CITU workers at the behest of the controversial estate owner who sold the land to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for its new space institute.

Giving a brief of the experience of his delegation comprising Congress Legislature Party deputy leader G. Karthikeyan, KPCC vice-president Thalekunnil Basheer and DCC president V.S. Sivakumar, Mr. Chennithala said such a blockade had the backing of powerful leaders in the Left Democratic Front (LDF).

‘Bigger scam’

Terming the Ponmudi land deal a scam bigger than the one in which the former Public Works Minister T.U. Kuruvilla was involved, Mr. Chennithala said the minutes of a crucial meeting convened by the Forest Minister clearly established his role in enabling the de-notification of the land as ecologically fragile.

The meeting was convened by the Minister under the guise of discussing the labour problem in Merchinston Estate, which formed part of the land sale. The Revenue Minister also attended the meeting, but it did not decide on the so-called labour dispute, but permitted the private party, Xavi Mano Mathew, to cut trees for firewood.

Minister’s role

The minutes showed that the Minister had advised the party to approach the custodian of forests to get his property de-notified. Even though the estate owner had forest cases charged against him, the Forest Minister did not have any qualms in allowing him to attend the meeting.

The Chief Minister had stated in the Assembly that he would examine the Forest Minister. This was a clear expression of lack of confidence in the Forest Minister, who had lost the moral authority to continue in office. Mr. Chennithala said the KPCC delegation’s visited the area where the felled trees had been stored and found out that the trees belonged to precious variety and were not meant for firewood. The KPCC president said the Forest Minister’s charge that the deal had taken place during the UDF rule did not hold water because at no point of time did the UDF Government or its Forest and Revenue Ministers intervene on behalf of the private party who owned the estate. He said the UDF could not be held responsible for the 2,000 odd registrations that used to take place in a day at that time, he said.

It took hardly five months for the procedures to be completed to get the land de-notified.

“We suspect that the deal had the blessings of prominent leaders in the LDF. The Chief Minister’s statement that the ISRO authorities did not approach the Government for land was also not correct. The ISRO had written to the Revenue Minister seeking land at a nominal rate. But the District Collector, who was asked to file a report, said that no land was available in the district. Later, the ISRO informed the Chief Minister that it proposed to buy land on its own and wanted him to take steps to de-notify the land declared as ecologically fragile.

The Forest Minister had termed the estate owner as a “shady character”. In that case, what justification does Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan have for being a tenant of this person? “It is clear why this person was wielding power,” Mr. Chennithala said.

He said the KPCC would inform the Prime Minister about the ISRO’s role in the land deal. As far as the KPCC was concerned, the Prime Minister’s programme to inaugurate the new institute was non-existent. Mr. Chennithala clarified that the UDF wanted the space institute to be set up in the State. The Government should have considered giving free land for such an initiative, he said.