On Wednesday, the Kerala govt decided to disband the Tribunal set up in 2011 by the then CM, VS Achuthanandan, to settle the controversial land disputes in Munnar.

Disbanding Munnar Tribunal will give land grabbers a free run Fmr govt pleader to TNM
news Encroachment Thursday, July 26, 2018 - 07:26

Disbanding the Munnar Special Tribunal will increase encroachments in Munnar and allow land grabbers to rule the roost, the former government pleader for Munnar said. 

“Already, due to the government’s ‘interventions’, the Munnar Tribunal was ‘ineffective’. They were not given power to act, infrastructure to function and even enough employees to carry out the works,” Advocate Shuseela Bhat, the former government pleader said, speaking to TNM.

On Wednesday, the Kerala government decided to disband the Munnar Special Tribunal set up in 2011 by the then chief minister VS Achuthanandan, to settle the controversial land disputes in Munnar.

Through the Munnar Tribunal Act, the Special Tribunal was set up for the adjudication of disputes in respect of land in Munnar area comprising the villages of Chinnakanal, Kannan Devan Hills, Santhanpara, Vellathooval, Aanavilasom, Pallivasal, Aanaviratty and Bison Valley.

“The Tribunal’s objectives were to settle disputes in respect of land in Munnar area in the eight villages, by transferring the land-related cases pending before the various courts and other authorities to the Tribunal and to provide for matters connected therewith,” Shuseela added.

The land in Munnar area is rich in flora and fauna requiring preservation.

However, there have reportedly been large-scale encroachments of land in Munnar, conversion of land, use of land for purposes other than those assigned and indiscriminate exploitation of land and other natural resources.

Many cases and disputes were pending before the various authorities, courts, including Kerala High Court. And many of the disputes were factual disputes which necessitated detailed examination of documents and adducing evidence.

“So, the then government intended to settle once and for all these disputes by constituting a Special Tribunal for taking a final decision thereon within a fixed time limit,” Shuseela said while adding that, however, the Tribunal was handicapped from the beginning itself.

Susheela added that between 2012 and 2013, when she was in the Tribunal, she had proposed an amendment to the Act to make the Tribunal more effective.

“The objectives were to speed up the trials and retrieve the land from encroachers. However, the proposal was ignored,” Susheela added.

As per the Kerala government, the Munnar Tribunal has succeeded in settling only 42 cases so far and so, it is not worth having such a Tribunal.

Meanwhile, Advocate Harish Vasudevan said that the decision reveals Kerala government’s anti-environmental attitude.

“It’s quite disappointing to learn that the government has decided to disband the Munnar Tribunal. It shows the government is least bothered in protecting Munnar and its environment,” Harish said.

“Now, the cases will come to High Court, delays in settlement will happen, encroachments will increase in Munnar, disputes will increase and finally, real farmers and Munnar environment will be hit badly,” Harish added.

Recently, Manorama reported that a response to an RTI plea submitted to the Kerala revenue department suggested that the chief minister’s office is likely sitting on a report on Munnar encroachments submitted by then Devikulam sub-collector Sriram Venkitaraman.

According to the report, the sensitive file has in fact disappeared without a trace from the sub-collector's office.

The report submitted in two phases by Venkitaraman included a detailed list of big encroachers and the action taken to evict them.

With the CPI (M) seeking rejection of the report and its ally CPI demanding action on it, it had become one of the hotly debated issues in Kerala and resulted in the transfer of Venkitaraman.

Last month, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said in the state Assembly that the government is planning to bring out a special legislation for sanctioning new constructions in Munnar.

He was replying to the Opposition’s notice for adjournment motion on the difficulties faced by the local population for construction activities in eight villages falling in Munnar and Adimaly, in the wake of a High Court order.

Kerala Congress (M) chairman KM Mani had moved the notice. He had said then that the decision assigning village officers to grant sanctions for domestic construction activities was a failure and hundreds of applications were pending in the panchayats.

The High Court had earlier made the Revenue Department’s sanction mandatory for construction activities in the panchayats. After a joint meeting with different political parties, the government issued a circular empowering village officers to sanction NOCs. 

Revenue Minister E Chandrasekharan had said that the order assigning village officers could not be revoked.