The controversial eviction drive in Munnar has reached a peak, and the young IAS officer who is leading it - Devikulam sub-Collector V Sriram - has come under fire from several political leaders. The CPI(M), the largest partner of the ruling LDF is not happy with the drive - which is being conducted with blessings of the Revenue Minister E Chandrashekharan, who belongs to the CPI.
In fact, when the eviction team demolished a cross that was erected on the illegal encroachment, it wasn’t the Christian groups who protested, but Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who expressed his displeasure over the demolition.
In between the politics over the eviction drive, TNM caught up with the man who was at the centre of a similar drive during VS Achuthanandan’s rule in Kerala: K Suresh Kumar, a 1989 batch IAS officer - who took voluntary retirement last year - was the blue-eyed boy of the administration in 2007, when they evicted illegal encroachments in Munnar with a vengeance.
‘Skeptical about CPI’s intentions’
Ten years since that operation shook Kerala, Suresh Kumar says that it isn’t religious groups behind the encroachment, but a real estate mafia. “It’s an organised criminal gang, not any religious group--any church or temple-- that has encroached acres of government land over the years. They would erect a cross, and would do anything to encroach land,” he says.
But Suresh Kumar, who is now the chairman of the Ananthamurthy Academy, is skeptical about how long the eviction drive would last.
“VS Achuthanandan was forced to stop the operation (in 2007) because of pressure from the CPI and the official faction of the CPI(M). Then, the eviction move was taken over by the then Revenue Minister KP Rajendran. The CPI man was idle in four years from 2007 till the end of LDF rule," Suresh Kumar alleges.
Questioning the intention of the CPI in leading the eviction move now, Suresh Kumar asks, "Will they demolish the CPI party office in the town, which is a seven-storied tourist home?”
“In the title deed for the building, it’s written that the land was given to the party for a thatched house for then Chief Minister PK Vasudevan Nair and his wife. However, PKV lived in the official residence then. And on the land, they built a tourist home. They now call it a ‘party office’ - all they have is a red flag in the basement,” he alleges.
‘Why no action against Tata?’
Suresh Kumar says that the CPI has to prove its sincerity by taking action against the Tata group, which, he says, has encroached land in Munnar as well.
“The previous UDF government had said in the court that the title deeds of Tata are fake, but no action has been taken in the issue so far,” Suresh says.
“Nobody is worried that Tata has made a huge profit from the tea estates on the encroached land. In 2007 Tata was in illegal possession of more than 25,000 acres of vested government land, of which 1250 acres of land were recovered during VS's rule. What about the rest? Why the CPI is always soft on them?” he asks.
What about ‘small’ encroachments?
The former IAS officer also questions the stand that only encroachments above five acres of land will be evicted. "In the town, all the cottages and resorts are built on four of five cents, which means that even the illegal ones are safe under the five-acre norm.”
He further says, “It’s not the politicians who lead the encroachments. Politicians and officials are tools in the hands of the mafia. The mafia has bribed them all. When somebody wants to do an illegal construction the only question being asked is - When will you finish it? In a month's time, or in some weeks’ time? The legal clearance is then taken care by the corrupt politicians and officials. A kind of money laundering is happening there.”
‘Encroachments have doubled’
Suresh Kumar further alleges that in the 10 years between his operation Munnar and now, the encroachments in the district have only doubled, as no one has bothered to do anything about them in the last decade.
"There were in total 3500 individual encroachments in 2007. In ten years, it has doubled. In 2007, in just 30 days, we demolished 92 illegal constructions and recovered 1600 acres of land,” Suresh recalls.
“There are around 160 petitions pending in court against the evictions. But the court has not issued any stay, except in one case, where they ordered compensation. Then why was the previous UDF government a silent spectator to the crime? There is no legal hurdle to justify political inaction," he says.
The current eviction drive in Munnar comes after the environment committee of the state Assembly, appointed by the present government, submitted its first report on March 13, recommending the removal of the illegal constructions in Munnar, and raising concern over the fragile nature of the land.
‘Ravindran pattayams fake’
Like many, Suresh Kumar also questions the authenticity of the infamous Ravindran pattayams (title deeds). Ravindran, a deputy Tahsildar of Devikulam in 1960, had issued 200 title deeds which gave legal cover to most of the illegal encroachments.
“Ravindran was not even a Tahsildar. It was Ravindran who gave the title deed for the CPI(M) party office in the town,” Suresh Kumar says. “I will trust the current eviction only when it is fully successful,” he concludes.