The decision of the Kerala state government to redraw the boundaries of the Kurinji reserve following allegations of encroachment has invited massive criticism against the Pinnarayi government and the state Forest Department. The opposition took strong shape as the public alleged that the move was designed to give legal sanctity to encroachers.
The controversy put the government under a cloud, after the report submitted by Munnar Forest Wildlife warden R Laxshmi requesting the District Collector to direct the Devikulam Sub-Collector to complete the land settlement with the redrawn boundary, was published in the media.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said that the government will not reduce the area of the Kurinji reserve in Idukki, denying allegations that a survey was going on in the reserve. He also said that a ministerial committee would be constituted to alleviate the fears of the local people.
The CM was speaking at a public meeting at Koothuparamba in Kannur on Saturday to commemorate the anniversary of the death of five Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) workers in police firing in 1994.
Meanwhile, BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan alleged that the move was aimed at providing land to those close to the Chief Minister. Kummanam who held talks with Union Environment Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan in New Delhi on Saturday said that the center will intervene in the Kurinji reserve issue.
After the meeting with the Union Minister, Kummanam said, â€śThe state governmentâ€™s move is illegal. As per Section 26 A of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, the state government has no power to redefine the boundary of the sanctuary. The Neelakurinji area was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 2006. The consent of national wildlife board is mandatory for changing the boundary. If there were more original titleholders of land, they would have already approached the settlement officerâ€ť, reports TOI.
He added, "There is an attempt to sabotage the authority of the appointed settlement officer. It is illegal to overrule his orders. If there were any original owners of the land, they would've come to the settlement officer long ago, but none has approached him yet. This is a conspiracy to allot the land to the people close to the chief ministerâ€ť, reports Deccan Chronicle.
The centre will convene a high- level meeting of Forest, Wildlife and Environment ministries to discuss the LDF government's decision to reduce the boundaries of the sanctuary.
The state governmentâ€™s move also invited strong criticism from veteran leaders like former Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and the Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala.
Achuthanandan on Saturday wrote a letter to CM Pinnarayi Vijayan and Revenue Minister E Chandrashekaran urging the government to clear all encroachments in the sanctuary and protect the reserve. It was during his tenure that the government issued the notification for the sanctuary.
In his letter VS demands that strict actions must be taken against encroachers.
â€śNeelakurinji Sanctuary project should be implemented without disturbing the area. Even while considering public apprehensions, the government should strictly evict encroachers,â€ť The New Indian Express quoted him as saying.
According to TOI, Ramesh Chennithala said, â€śUDF leaders will visit the sanctuary on December 6. It is to support some tycoons outside Kerala that the government is planning to cut down the radius of the sanctuary. We donâ€™t understand why the chief minister is supporting the move to hand over Munnar forest area to such mafias.â€ť
Incidentally there have been many reports of land encroachments in this area. In August, a fire had broken out in the region destroying 300 acres of land in Neelakurunji reserve in Jandappara area, Kottakkamboor village. Locals suspect the land mafiaâ€™s role in starting the fire to encroach the land.
Bijo Mani, Youth Congress Parliament Committee president told TNIE, â€śWe see it as a purported move by the land mafia. However, the foresters are trying to hush up the issue by depicting it as a natural forest fire. They havenâ€™t even registered a case in this connection.â€ť
The land which belongs to Joyce George MP, the title deed of which was struck down by the Devikulam Sub-collector recently, is also situated in the same village.