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24 Apr 2024, Edition - 3207, Wednesday

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Plantation majors encroach several thousand acres of rain forests in Gudalur

Vidyashree Dharmaraj


A behemoth 80,000 acres of land has been encroached upon by various plantations and a large number of individuals in Gudalur and its surroundings. Plantation giants such as Manjushree Plantations, Parry Agro, Hindustan
Unilever, Harrisons Malayalam and Silver Cloud among others have impinged the area which has for long been considered as a crucial part of the oxygen bank of South India and overhead tank of Tamilnadu. Out of the 80,000 acres, the forest department “has reclaimed about 29,000 acres and is carrying out afforestation and soil conservation measures in a bid to revive the rain forests”, according to DFO Sumesh Sohan. With regard to the remaining 50,000 acres, illegal patwari pattas have been given to land grabbers occupying about 20,000 acres, leavig 30,000 acres in the hands of the plantation giants. Now, the revenue department has been banned from giving out more unlawful patwari pattas.

After researching and interrogating, it was discovered that the pattas were given over the years only to please the vote bank of the Gudalur constituency.

According to the Gudalur Janmam Estates Abolition Act of 1969, the long-term leases have lapsed, leaving the remaining 30,000 acres to legally be property of the forest department. Yet, they refuse to budge. In order to stall the forest department from scrupulously reclaiming their land, they have filed litigation upon litigation- a mind blowing total of 400, in order to derail the forest department from recouping their plantation-filled land.

Every time one litigation has dissolved, more are filed under the names of the plantation workers working on the bigwig’s land, keeping the Forest Department preoccupied- at least for the next century or so. “Successive government have failed to come out with a lasting solution because of the sensitive nature of this issue”, states Senior Journalist Mr. D.Radhakrishnan. The government has for the past several years been under fire due to the revenue department’s shortsighted action of giving illegal but binding patwari pattas.

The number of workers who know that their employment on the disputed land is delicately balanced is few. Those who do, hang onto hope that the forest department won’t take back the lands. Most workers state that in case the forest department reclaims the land, they would be forced to look for alternative employment like domestic servants.They claim that they are not cut out for anything else. A worker claimed that since they only make Rs. 313 a day, they find it very difficult even to educate their children. Most of the workers know nothing about the Janmam Act.

Adverting to the growing water problem particularly in Tamil nadu an activist P.K.Selvaraj studying the problem says that water conservation should be accorded the highest priority and opines that that “If the forests on the Janmam lands are reclaimed at least 20 TMC water can be supplied to the districts where Bhavani River is a drinking water source. He laments ” not only is the encroachment affecting the water requirement of the people but also polluting the water sources as research shows that the pesticides sprayed on the plantation crops like tea are spreading to the catchments.

J.Innocent Divya, the Nilgiris District Collector said that a three-member committee has investigated the issue and has submitted a report to the state government. She declined to answer how long ago, or what the report contained, but guaranteed that the report would grant the people working for the major companies alternate work. However, even if the report returns with or without good news, it can’t serve its purpose until after each of the litigations are resolved, which could take over a century.

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