Relocation of cemeteries at Pattoor hanging fire

T. Nandakumar

Land acquisition for city roads project

Thiruvananthapuram: The development of the Palayam-Airport road corridor has been held up for more than a year due to the bureaucratic delay in acquiring the land housing the cemeteries of two churches.

It was in 1999 that the Local Administration Department decided to provide alternate land to the St. Thomas Mar Thoma Church and the Latin Church at Pattoor to relocate their cemeteries bordering the road. The Government subsequently issued an order directing the Health Department to transfer 36 cents from its property on the western side of the road, in lieu of the acquired land. The widening of the road corridor was finalised on the basis of this proposal.

The survey for the land was completed in late 2004. On September 26, 2004, at a meeting chaired by the Bishop of the Mar Thoma South Kerala diocese, TRIDA agreed to provide alternate land to relocate 161 tombs from the cemetery. It also approved a proposal to shift the tombs at Government expense.

"The Mayor, the Chief Secretary and the TRIDA chairman were present at the meeting. But for the last 18 months, the file has been shuttling between various departments," says John Cherian, retired chief engineer, who participated in the meeting on behalf of the church.

In February 2005, the Empowered Committee for the development of the capital region approved a compensation package for the two churches involving a deal with the Health Department. Four months later, the District Collector issued an order instructing the Director of Health Services to hand over the 36 cents. But land assessment was still held up as a result of a communication gap between the taluk and village offices.

Once that was sorted out, officials raised objections over the valuation of the trees on the Health Department campus. The file was again held up at the Secretariat after middle level officials called for further clarifications on the extent of land to be handed over as compensation.

"It is appalling that middle-level officials can hold up a project on the flimsiest grounds, overriding orders issued by the Collector and the Government Secretary. The delay in relocating the cemeteries has virtually cried halt to the road development works on the airport corridor. Since the cemeteries are located at a sharp curve, the rest of the road cannot be taken up for widening," says a project official. The project faces another major hurdle at Sanghumukham where the Government is yet to work out an exchange deal between the Southern Air Command (SAC) and the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) to realign the main road fronting the beach. The proposal is part of the beach beautification project under which the existing road will be moved back from the beach to the perimeter of the airport, leaving a wide swathe open for the creation of a leisure and recreation zone on 26 acres of land.

It seeks to acquire about 750 sq.m. of land from the grounds of the Sanghumukham Devi temple and 2,050 sq.m. from the SAC air base. Part of the land acquired from the SAC is to be used to compensate the TDB for the loss of the temple ground. The Air Force is to be compensated with 2,400 sq.m. further to the Valiathura end of the road. The City Corporation had earlier agreed to surrender 1,200 sq.m. from the vacant land behind the South Palace. In 2004, the Government had directed a senior official to work out an exchange deal between the TDB and the SAC top brass for the land transfer, but since then, there has been no progress. The Palayam-Airport road is one of the key corridors to be taken up for development under the City Roads Improvement Project.

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