There is an astoundingly yawning mismatch between words and deeds of the LDF Government in Kerala and the latest is the hurried yet secret move to regularise encroachments in ecologically fragile Idukki district.
And all this comes when Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his team have been going places seeking funds for rebuilding Kerala that was devastated by the August 2018 floods. A green rebuilding plan only appears to be more only in words and the haughtiness lingers in going ahead with a plan that has little environmental concerns and refusal to learn from the lessons taught by the flood.
As if on a war footing, the Government, according to top sources, is all set to come out with an order that will give legal sanctity to up to 15 cents of land with buildings of plinth area of 1,500 sq ft being used for livelihood. Buildings used for commercial purposes will get regularised. However, the owner or his dependant should prove that they have no land elsewhere.
While there was such a proposal to regularise such encroachments in April 2018 (before the flood), the latest proposal finds fault in not taking forward the 2018 proposal. The latest one makes clear that necessary amendments be made immediately so that buildings on such land are regularised.
Sources said that the authorities have accorded all blessings for this and it should take little time when the order comes out. The catches are many as per the latest proposal. It only mentions a plinth area of 1,500 sq ft and is mum on the number of floors. Once regularised, there is no bar on having multi-storied buildings, provided they confirm to the fixed plinth area.
This will see not only many of the buildings that have come up on such encroachments get regularised, but new ones will come up. A top official told Pennews, on condition of anonymity, that people who have encroached on huge tracts will divide it among dependants limiting it to 15 cents and set up more buildings, turning the ecologically fragile land into a concrete jungle.
Worse, there will also be regularisation of construction on slopes which goes against the basic premise of protecting hills and cliffs. The mudslides during the flood were the result of careless and haphazard development activities in these slopes.
Interestingly, an official pointed to the massive housing scheme proposed years ago for which 500 acres was earmarked in the district. Not only were buildings not constructed, but no land is there in Government possession as it has been encroached by several persons.
Locals also point to the KSEB land around the Pallivaasal power project. Way back in the 1940s, 500 acres was bought by the Travancore royal family from Tatas for the electricity department. What now remains with the board is merely 200 acres.
The case is no different for the board in Munnar where it had 16 acres and now has just 3-4 acres. This area is being marked as acknowledging that retrieving the lost land is impossible. The scene is no different with other government bodies whose lands have shrunk substantially. "This is a dangerous signal to the public that legal sanctity will be accorded to encroachments," said a retired official of the board.
During the VS Achuthanandan regime, a massive 'Clean Munnar' campaign was undertaken. Bulldozers and excavators descended on the hill tourist spot and started bringing down illegal structures. This had earned the wrath of a section in Munnar thriving on encroached land. There was a committee formed which opposed it as also any move to curtail constructions under the Kasturirangan committee recommendations. The legal advisor of this committee was the successful MP of the LDF last time, and was hoisted during the recently held Lok Sabha elections, but tasted miserable defeat.
The Munnar operations did not last long as even the CPM state leadership was against it. There have been allegations of encroachments by some of the party leaders and legislators from the area which would soon be regularised, it is pointed out.
According to the 2010 ruling of Kerala High Court, permission for construction can be given by the local body only after a no objection certificate (NOC) is got from the revenue department, the police and the Public Works Department. But constructions continue and these would get legal sanctity once the new order comes into force.