Mani counters statement

Staff Reporter

Kochi: Revenue Minister K.M. Mani on Saturday said that Leader of the Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan's statement on the forest issue was really aimed at torpedoing the UDF Government's earnest efforts to protect the interest of farmers in the hill regions.

At a press conference here on Saturday, the Minister said that even as the Government was committed to protect the reserved forest, every effort were being made to save the farmer's interest by treating their farm land as non-forest land. In fact, all the parties had agreed that pattas could be granted to those who occupied the forest land prior to January 1, 1977.

If the arguments of the Opposition Leader were accepted, the farmers who were in possession of the land before January 1, 1977, would have to be evicted. He said that Mr. Achuthanandan's statement came when the Government was in the process of preparing a response to the Supreme Court's Empowered Committee's report.

The empowered committee was constituted when a special leave petition filed by an organisation against the allotment of pattas in Idukki district came up. Mr. Mani said that he learnt that the committee had described the land in the Idukki district as forest land. He said that some of the areas were shown as forest land in the very old records. It could not be relied on. He said that the Central Government had given its approval for granting pattas on 28,000 hectares of forest land. Of which, 20,000 hectares were in the Cardamom Hills Reserve (CHR) in Idukki district. He said that this land could not be treated as forest land. If the CHR areas were regarded as forest land, all the farmers living off the land would have to be evicted. He said that Mr. Achuthanandan should not have made such a statement when the issue was pending before the Supreme Court. He appealed to the CPI(M) and Mr. Achuthanandan to desist from sabotaging the UDF Government's action to protect the hill farmers.