Residents allege that Karnataka has been encroaching on their land over the years by shifting the jandas (border stone) into Kerala.

20 Kerala families living on border fear eviction by Karnataka forest departmentRepresentational image
news Conflict Wednesday, March 04, 2020 - 16:07

A few families in Kannur district’s Ayyankunnu panchayat, located close to the Karnataka border, have been living in constant uncertainty for the last many decades for fear of being evicted by the Karnataka forest department.

It was in December 2019 that a couple from the panchayat was arrested by the Karnataka forest department in Koottupuzha in this area for cutting a few trees in their compound for renovating their house. This is a disputed area that Karnataka claims belongs to its forest department while Kerala claims it’s the state’s poramboke land that hasn’t been assigned to anybody.

According to the residents, there were about 40 families living in the area, all of them having settled here many decades ago. But over the years, many of them vacated the place as they were being pressurised by the forest department. Presently there are 20 families living here, fearing eviction at any time.

Sudha, a resident of the area, alleges that Karnataka has been encroaching on their land over the years by shifting the jandas (border stone) into Kerala.

“I have been living here since I was 12 years old. It has been more than 40 years. Over the years the Karnataka forest department has moved the border stone numerous times. When I was young the janda was somewhere deep inside the forest, we were not able to see it. Now it is on our doorstep. Whenever the forest officials change, they keep on shifting the stone and encroaching on our land,” she says.

Sudha’s daughter Prameela lives close by. Her chicken coop and goat shed are now in Karnataka claimed land, after the janda was moved some time back. “A few years ago they moved the janda and a part of her property was encroached upon by them,” Sudha alleges. She says they are scared to ask the officials why the janda has been placed in Prameela’s land.

“My husband goes to Karnataka for daily wage work, so we were so scared to ask the forest officials about the encroachment, because we fear they might harm him. The couple who was arrested for cutting trees in their compound have not even been produced before the court in time,” she says, adding, “This is our land, we have no other place to go. We live here under constant fear.”

Raju, another resident, says that the Kerala government is not able to give title deeds for their properties because of these issues.

Sheeja Sebastian, Ayyankunnu panchayat president, told TNM that the 20 families are under pressure to leave their homes. “They have house numbers, ration cards, they pay tax at the village office, the Kerala government has even allotted finance to build and renovate their houses. Karnataka is trying to encroach on and snatch their property. Though the officials are not involved directly in a fight, they torture these poor people regularly,” she alleges.

“They are not allowed to cut the trees they planted, not allowed to construct anything new. Officials keep shifting the janda, walk through these villagers’ properties holding guns,” she says, adding that there are documents in the Tahsildar’s office to prove that the whole area belongs to Kerala.

Sheeja says that she went to meet the arrested couple in December along with the Tahsildar and the local MLA, but they were not allowed to meet the family, who are in detention.

“Basically the department is creating a fear in the minds of the people, so that they can be evicted easily. What is happening here is a clear case of encroachment, that is why they shift the janda now and then,” she alleges.

The residents also allege that they are not allowed to catch fish from the Barapole river by the Karnataka forest officials.

“Cases have been registered against many of the residents under the Forest Act. Most of us have been born and brought up here. But it looks like soon we will be evicted. The families remaining here are very poor, they cannot afford land or house anywhere else,” Raju says.

In 2018, controversy erupted when Karnataka raised objections over the Kerala government constructing a bridge across the Koottupuzha river. The bridge has been left half-constructed due to the dispute. Though Karnataka has given technical sanction to construct the bridge, there are issues associated with it, says Sheeja.

“They create issues so that they can establish rights over the land. They are adamant about it. The arrest of the couple should be considered in this context,” she says.

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