The Karnataka Forest Department, recently arrested a couple at Palayam in Koottupuzha, a hilly town in Kerala’s Kannur district that shares its boundary with Karnataka, after the couple — Babu and Soumini had cut down a few trees in their compound for domestic purposes. The region is disputed, with the Karnataka Forest Department claiming that the area is forest area while Kerala maintains that it is poramboke (govt land not assigned to anybody) area.
The couple were arrested by the police on Tuesday and were kept in custody for four days without bail, before being released on Saturday.
"Last Tuesday, they had cut down a few trees here. Later, the Karnataka Wildlife officials visited the spot and arrested them. So, we decided to block the interstate highway. Tehsildar, MLA and other officials visited the spot. We later approached the court, however the couple was not produced in front of the magistrate," Anto, a resident of the area told TNM.
“The couple has been residing there for 60 years, and the area is under our state's boundary limits. Around eight families are residing there. During the last floods, three houses were completely destroyed and in that, even their house was partially damaged. However, the panchayat had agreed to help reconstruct their house. They also have a house number,” adds Anto.
Locals in the area have already voiced their concerns against the alleged high-handedness of the Karnataka officials. They were framed and arrested under false charges, claims Anto. Now, what is the guarantee that they won't arrest people living in the same vicinity for such reasons again, he asks.
District Forest Officer, Kannur, Kurra Srinivas told TNM, “There is a boundary issue between Kerala and Karnataka in that region and Karnataka claims that the trees which were cut come under Karnataka forest area. It is a disputed territory as on our side, it doesn’t come under forest area but it is revenue land, poramboke area. This is the reason the couple were arrested but they have been released today on bail.”
Residents say that the Kerala Forest officials have clearly demarcated the area with iron rods and wooden planks. However, there are development projects such as the construction of a bridge, which have been stalled due to the inter-state boundary issue.
“The work of the bridge is still incomplete. The Karnataka officials claim that the land belongs to them and the Wildlife officials’ intention is to somehow evict the people from there. Their next agenda is to stall the Barapole project,” says Anto.
The Barapole project is a hydroelectric project that has been developed by the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) in the Ayyankunnu panchayat.