The long battle has taken its toll on James and Treesa’s family

For 12 acres of land a Kerala familys 38-year-old battle
news Friday, September 18, 2015 - 13:13
After spending two years in an old age home, Kanjirathinal George died a heartbroken man – he had spent the best years of his life fighting for land that was taken away from him and his family was too poor to look after him when old age caught up with him.
 
But now, his daughter Treesa George and her husband KK James have continued his battle. For the last 36 days, they have been sitting outside the Waynad Collectorate, demanding that their land, which was allegedly illegally seized by the Forest Department in 1976, be returned to them.
 
Migrating to the Malabar region from central Travancore, George had bought 12 acres of ‘janmam patta’ (unquestionable ownership) land in Kanjiramkadu of Mananthavady from the Kuttanadan Cardomom Company in 1968.
 
In eight years, George had turned the land into a lush green plantation by growing coffee, plantain, coconut and spices, and in the midst of which, he lived with his family. The picture postcard life ended one day in 1976 when the forest department claimed that the land owned by George was vested with it, and officials destroyed his plantation.
 
Having spent the prime of his life trying to get back what he claimed was rightfully his, George died on December 13, 2012 at the age of 73, in an old age home run by his church. His wife, who became traumatized after an attack from forest department officials, also passed away soon after George’s demise.
 
George and his wife have three children but only Treesa and her husband are able to keep up the fight because her siblings suffer from various ailments.
 
James, who is a daily-wage worker, says that for several years, they were fighting a losing battle until the RTI came along. “Until 2005 we were losing cases as the department had forged documents and we could not prove that those were fake papers,” says James.
In 2012, the Kerala High Court upheld a 1991 verdict according to which George and his family would get 76 cents. James has now sought a review of this order. “We had no power, no money, no one to protect, so they always win. We were not allowed to enter the land,” James says.
 
In October 2014, while a case was pending with the high court, the Forest Department claimed that the land was vested with it, but through a new notification. James contends that this would be the second time that the forest department has claimed ownership of the same plot of land. He says that since 1976 Forest Department has been claiming that their land was vested land with it under the Kerala Private Forest Vesting and Assignment Act, 1971, and did so again in 2014. “So how is it possible to legally confer a land twice?” he asks.
 
James suspects that the government was claiming his father-in-law’s land because it had given another plot to land to someone else. “A collector in the past and shown that the borders of the land mentioned in the documents produced by the Forest department differ from our land. So there is a possibility that the forest department might have given that land away and may be trying to prove it in records by replacing it with ours,” James alleges.
 
The long battle has taken its toll on James and Treesa’s family. “Illness, poverty and harassment (from the government) has taken away out hope to live. We can’t even send our kids school. Appachan (George) bought the land using his all savings but they took it. How do they expect us to live?” he says.
 
Now in their 36th day, James and Treesa say that this protest is their last stand. “This is our final battle. We won’t stop it until we get our land back. I want that same land because that our father’s dream. Otherwise I and my family will sit here in front of the Collectorate till our death,” James said.
 

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