State braces for Munnar action

P. Venugopal

Legal formalities being readied

Cabinet to discuss transfer of land soon: Minister

Part of 70,522 acres taken over from KDH Company

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The State government is attending to certain legal formalities required to strengthen its hands in dealing with encroachments in Munnar.

Forest Minister Benoy Viswom hinted about the initiative at an ‘ecologue’ organised by the Jaiji Peter Foundation, an organisation of environmental journalists, and his department in the Shenduruney Wildlife Sanctuary on Sunday.

Addressing the programme, which brought together green journalists and forest officials to discuss conservation issues in the State, Mr. Viswom said he expected the long-pending issue of transferring 17,922 acres of revenue land in Munnar to his department to come before the Council of Ministers within a couple of weeks.

Last week, a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court had made an oral observation expressing its concern over the government’s inability to check encroachments in Munnar.

The court, while hearing a public interest litigation, had observed that the way encroachments were going on in the region, Munnar’s green hills would soon turn brown.

The land being transferred to the Forest Department is part of the 70,522 acres taken over by the government from the Kannan Devan Hills (KDH) Produce Company under the KDH (Resumption) Act of 1971.

Of the total area taken over, 17,922 acres of shola patches, lying interspersed with tea estates, had been remaining with the Revenue Department right from the time of the takeover.

Once this stretch comes under the Forest Department, the strong anti-encroachment provisions of various forest laws will become applicable to it. A study done at the behest of the Forest Department by the French Institute of Pondicherry to devise a ‘Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and Action Plan for Kerala’ had placed this area on a par with the Eravikulam National Park in terms of conservation value.

A major chunk of the encroachments in Munnar had happened in these shola patches. In fact, the government had issued an order in 1980 transferring these shola patches to the Forest Department following the report of an expert committee constituted to recommend the land use pattern to be adopted for the entire area taken over from the KDH Produce Company.

However, intense lobbying by vested interest groups had aborted that order of the government.

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