Govt. unwilling to evict post-1977 encroachers

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM MARCH 30. The Government is turning a Nelson's Eye to the large-scale encroachment of forests that has taken place after 1977.

As per official figures, more than 6,000 hectares has been encroached upon after 1977. This does not fully reflect the extent of encroachments that have been going on for years. Besides, a number of plantations in the State have annexed forests near them.

The Forest Minister, K. Sudhakaran, had admitted recently that about 6,000 hectares was in the hands of encroachers and said that they would be evicted after joint verification.

However, a note submitted by the Forest Department to the Minister as back as in 2001 had stated that the evictions could not be carried out because of political pressure. Joint verification is a process that is often delayed indefinitely. The delay helped the encroachers to falsify evidence and claim that the land in question was occupied prior to 1977.

The Government policy is to assign land encroached before January 1, 1977, to the settlers as per an assurance given by the Government when A.K. Antony was the Chief Minister in 1979. Though joint verification for identifying these lands and evicting those who encroached upon forest-land after 1977 began about 10 years ago, it is yet to be completed. While the verifications and evictions are being delayed, politicians are making attempts to get clearance for assigning land to even the post-1977 encroachers.

The Government is also not initiating any action to take over Government land in possession of plantations.

In some cases, a proper survey would have to be conducted to determine the area under occupation.

This survey, which had been ordered more than a decade ago, is still not complete. In some cases, land had been taken possession of through falsification of records with the connivance of officials.

No worthwhile inquiry had been conducted into these cases. The Government land adjoining plantations could have been distributed to tribals, if the Government had resumed them.

Encroachments have occurred in Government farms also.

At least in the case of one of the Government farms proposed to be distributed to the tribals, the cattle farm near Vithura in Thiruvananthapuram district, there was the problem of encroachment.

This was originally forest-land. For some reason, the Government dropped the proposal to distribute the land under this farm to the tribals.

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