The Kerala government has decided to regularise illegal land possessed by religious bodies, such as cemeteries, libraries and arts and culture establishments. The Cabinet decision aims to regularise government-owned land over one acre.
The Cabinet has given in-principle approval to issue title deeds to excess land up to one acre, which belong to religious institutions, though these lands cannot be used for commercial purposes.The title deed will be given for the minimum land required by such institutions. If the commercial purposes norm is violated, the government will take back the land.
While a one-acre limit has been provided for places of worship, the maximum land regularised for religious institutions and charity organisations is 50 cents. For arts, culture and sports organisations as well as libraries, the maximum land that will be regularised is 10 cents.
The government says that the land over and above this amount will be taken back, but it is unclear how that process will work.
The land required for the functioning of religious institutions and cemeteries will be granted by levying charges, as per existing laws. Institutions that legally occupied land before 1947 will have to pay 10 percent of the fair value fixed for the land. For the land occupied between 1947 and Kerala Piravi in 1956, it would be 25 percent of the fair value.
While the move aims to take back excess land illegally possessed by religious institutions, the criticism is that this will only result in regularising illegal land by issuing a title deed.
â€śIs there any precedence for retrieving the land illegally possessed by anyone? We have seen that it has not worked in Munnar or Idukki (places where illegal possession of land is common). The government decision will pave the way for regularising illegal land by religious institutions. Retrieving the excess land beyond one acre wonâ€™t happen. How can a government even retrieve excess land from religious institutions, given the prominence and power of these entities?â€ť activist CR Neelakantan told TNM.
He also opposes the governmentâ€™s move due to the scores of people that remain landless in the state.
â€śIf public land is given for free, it should be given to hundreds of landless people, if not for public purposes. Kerala is a land-locked state and the price of land is soaring even in villages. Regularising illegally possessed land, even if itâ€™s one acre, is something unimaginable. Why should religious institutions be granted more land? The religious institutions in Kerala are enormously rich,â€ť he says.
However, the cabinet decision made clear that for land used by the organisations and institutions for commercial purposes, market price will be taken from the organisation. Land in the heart of the cities will not be regularised.
â€śAlso itâ€™s not fresh land that will be provided to them. Only that the land which is already in possession will be regularized,â€ť K Prasakash Babu, state assistant secretary of the CPI told TNM.
The government will invoke the special power vested on it as per Rule 24 of the 1964 Land Reforms Act to issue title deeds.
For regularising land the authorities concerned should submit details to the government with the documents needed. In each case, the government will take decision as per its discretion. The cabinet decision has been taken in consultation with the Law Department, with suggestions from the Land Revenue Commissioner.