July 26, 2019
Two parallel moves to regularise land deeds in the ecologically fragile Idukki district can spell disaster and turn the tourist destination to an Ooty or a Kodaikkanal which have become concrete jungles. There is a haste on the part of the Kerala Government to regularise land holdings of up to 15 cents with buildings of 1,500 sq ft plinth area.
Alongside is expected regularisation of the 430 title deeds under what has come to be recognised as Ravindran pattayams (title deeds) covering nearly 10,000 acres in the district, to help small and marginal farmers. The move comes hardly a year after the devastating August 2018 floods that swept away buildings and structures built on encroached land across the district, led to massive landslides, left many lives lost and damaged houses.
All these have slowly and purposely slipped into oblivion, at least for the authorities. Unbridled construction, destruction of forest wealth, land fragmentation, etc have seen the two hill resorts in Tamil Nadu, Ooty and Kodai, witness warmer days. Slowly Munnar, neighbouring Tamil Nadu and with a huge Tamil population owing to the large tracts of tea plantations, and nearby attractive tourist spots in the district could witness such a phenomenon. This tourism push could be taken forward through the move to regularise land and buildings of 1,500 sqft plinth area.
Not only would it result in many of the buildings that have come up on such encroachments get regularised, but new ones could also crop up. The limit is for the plinth area and not the number of storeys, point out greens. Worse, people who have usurped huge tracts will divide it among dependants and set up more buildings to be turned to hotels, resorts, homestays, lodges and soon it would be concrete jungle. Years ago 500 acres was set aside for a housing scheme which never ever fructified. None knows the status of these lands.
Government land too was encroached. The KSEB, which had around 500 acres, bought from the Tatas by the Travancore royal family for the board, then a department, now has just 200 acres. The case is no different in Munnar where the KSEB property has shrunk from sing 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. 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 mere 200 acres. The case is no different for the board in Munnar where it had 16 acres which has shrunk to 3-4 acres. Buildings have come up on there, all of which would now get regularised.
Under the new dispensation, there would be no control even on buildings that have come up on hill slopes. In the case of Ravindran pattayams, already, there have come up boards in Idukki hailing the decision to grant deeds to the over 430 plots. These were sanctioned two decades ago by the then official MI Ravindran who was given charge as Additional Deputy Tahasildar of Devikulam in 1999. The technical glitch then was that he had no authority to sanction the deeds as there was no gazette notification.
There were allegations that more deeds were cleared forging his signature which was matter to be probed, though Ravindran was suspended. With the regularisation, he stands vindicated and is expected to fight against the humiliation he has had to suffer for two decades, Ravindran told The Covai Post. These deeds were not distributed as the VS Achuthanandan Government in 2007 declared them null and void during the Clean Munnar Operation which very soon fizzled out owing to lack of party support and the strong encroacher lobby fighting it tooth and nail.
But the vote bank matters and there is a hasty move to grant these deeds whose beneficiaries will include top leaders. Land, supposedly to be given to a large section of workers, mainly Tamils in the area, is for agriculture and dwelling purposes. Already, some of these lands have resorts and lodges, some owned by political leaders. Once regularisation happens, it could spell disaster for this green pocket.