Land grabbing mars Kerala politics

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The Neelakurinji land grab in Kerala exposes the fallacies of the politicians.

Neelakurinji blooms once in every twelve years in Munnar hills, Iduki, Kerala

Neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthianus) is a shrub that is found in the Western Ghats in South India. This blooms once in twelve years. During the flowering season the earth looks as if carpeted with blue flowers. This attracts tourists and ecologists from all over. Neelakurinji gets importance in all news media because of this during the flowering season.

Now Neelakurinji is a hot subject for debates because of other reasons. It is to expose the fallacies of politicians irrespective of political affiliations and hierarchy. The land grabbing in Idukki and Wayanad districts in Kerala is nothing new. Those with muscle power and close to rulers encroached forest land for cash crop cultivation from very early days. With the change of rule to democracy the encroaches are those with political might. Almost all political parties are beneficiaries of these unlawful encroachments. Hence only statements and declarations come out from the authorities who have to evict the unlawful occupiers. Seldom actions are initiated which never gets completed due to red-tapism and political interventions. Many corrupt bureaucrats who play hand in glove with the political bosses have minted money by taking soft approach towards unlawful encroaches. Though everyone is well aware of this, no one dares to raise a voice against this, fearing repercussions.

“The present government is struggling to find a balance in the issue as the media comes out with facts and figures on one hand and the encroachers’ appeasement and threats on the other”

During the last LDF rule in the state, the then Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan from the leftparty CPI (M) decided to deal the encroachers with an iron hand. Though he succeeded in starting actions, it could not be completed because of opposition from his own party apart from coalition partners and prominent opposition parties. During his rule, the then Revenue minister KP Rajendran belonging to CPI succeeded in notifying approximately 32 km² core habitat in Kottakamboor and Vattavada villages in Idukki district of Kerala as ‘Kurinji Sanctuary’ to protect the species from extinction. Though the notification was published, follow up actions were not done by that government or the UDF government that succeeded.

Now with CPI ministers in charge of Revenue and Forests, action was mooted to mark the boundaries of the sanctuary and evict the encroachers. When the action was initiated opposition to this also surfaced with vigour. It is interesting to note that this is led by a minister MM Mani who is a CPI(M)MLA from the region. According to those opposing the demarcation and eviction, there are poor families having very small holdings living there for generations and their rights have to be protected. But according to records with the revenue department there are mostly big holdings with lands purchased from small farmers to whom the government had given land for housing or cultivation. It is this land mafia which is against the sanctuary. Unfortunately some of the encroachers are political leaders and some represent the area in democratically elected bodies.

The present government which claims to be protectors of the downtrodden in public and acts as agents of the neo-rich in private is struggling to find a balance in the issue, as the media comes out with facts and figures on one hand and the encroachers appeasement and threats on the other. To distract public attention from the main issue, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has appointed a four member Ministerial committee to conduct an on the site study and report. MM Mani the MLA and minister from the area who has openly vouched to protect the interests of the encroachers is a prominent member of this committee is an indication of the Chief Minister’s stand. The minister had become notorious due to his abusive speeches and gestures even before being made a minister.

If the public vigil to protect nature and habitations die in the Neelakurinji sanctuary, other forests in Kerala will also soon become a legend.