CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan says the government has taken 822 decisions in the last cabinet meeting before the model code of conduct came into effect.
Opposition Leader V.S. Achuthanandan says the government has gone for slaughter tapping on its last leg. Both these allegations are absolutely baseless.
The election was notified on March 4. Cabinet meetings were held on March 1 and 2 before that, and on March 9 after that. The cabinet had taken 35 decisions on March 1 and 75 decisions on March 2. Financial aid for medical treatment was approved for 105 people on March 1. Drought relief measures were discussed on March 2. No other decision was taken on those days.
The opposition leaders should reveal the source of their information. They fell back on such baseless allegations through the last five years of the United Democratic Front rule. The latest allegations on land transactions are just a continuation of it.
Kumarakom eco-tourism village
The previous Left Democratic Front government had included the Kumarakom eco-tourism village project in its order dated July 17, 2010. This was one of the two projects recommended for implementation by the Industries Department. The other one was the Aranmula airport. The then chief minister issued the orders on the fourth anniversary of the government as the projects involved different departments.
The proposal was originally submitted in 2009 as the Kumarakom tourist resort village and the Left Democratic Front government approved it the next year.
The proposal was submitted again with the inclusion of ideas such as farm tourism. The United Democratic Front government approved the project in principle, pending adherence to the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act, 2008, and environmental clearance. The Kottayam district collector had recommended that the project could be considered for approval as it could invite investment of Rs 2,200 crore and generate employment.
The land in question has not been cultivated since 2007. The United Democratic Front government had not given approval for the Kumarakom eco-tourism village project to reclaim even an inch of land. The government, however, cancelled the order after a false campaign that the government had given approval for large-scale reclamation of paddy fields and wetlands.
Poabs Karuna Estate
The government had allowed the Poabs Group to pay taxes conditionally after a High Court-directed survey in Nelliyampathy found that there were no government lands inside the group’s Karuna Estate. The government has a duty to implement the court order. The genuineness of the original documents that could prove the Poabs Group’s ownership of the estate had to be obtained and the encumbrance certificate of the land had to be examined before taxes could be collected from the group, and even then it would be subject to the court ruling.
After the decision created a controversy, the government decided to accept the tax with all the conditions only after the final ruling on the case by the High Court. The conditions had clearly been made more stringent.
The Land Board Secretary had investigated the disputed land in Nelliyampathy and submitted a report in August 2014. It ordered a survey of the entire land. The Poabs Group approached the high court against this but the court approved the survey.
The survey found out that the 833 acres of land claimed by the Poabs Group did not contain any government land and they possessed 15 acres of vested forest. The land board secretary submitted a report that said that the government could collect tax on 833 acres of land. The revenue department had sought legal advice on the issue. The law department pointed out that the government could collect taxes on the land which was found to be private property and that just paying taxes did not constitute a right of ownership. The group was allowed to pay taxes on this basis.
Krishi Property Development Private Limited had applied for permission to set up IT parks on 127.85 acres in Puthenvelikkara village in North Paravur in Ernakulam district and Madathumpady village in Kodungallur taluk in Thrissur district. The company claimed that the project would have investment of Rs 1,600 crore and had the potential of generating 20,000 to 30,000 jobs. The company wanted to be exempted from the land ceiling laws to help it set up the project. The government considered the application with strict conditions. The order had made it clear that the exemption would be nullified if the land is used for any purpose other than hi-tech and IT. The district collector was required to make sure that the company had received the clearance based on the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Lands and Wetlands Act and the the Environment (Protection) Act.
The company, however, covered up the facts that the land was the subject of litigation. It also hid from the Industries Department that the Revenue Department had earlier rejected is application. The government cancelled its earlier order when it came to know of these.
The Hope Plantation in Peermade has been locked in a legal battle with the government for 40 years seeking an exemption in land ceiling. In 1974, they sought exemption for 3,984 acres of their total possession of 4,266 acres. In 1976, the Peermade Taluk Land Board issued an order exempting 2,945 acres. This started a legal battle. The government and the company fought in the High Court and the Supreme Court.
In January 2016, as per the direction of the High Court, the revenue additional chief secretary listened to the parties and reconsidered the application for waiver of exemption of land ceiling. The secretary found that a sudden takeover of land would affect the functioning of the plantation, where about 10,000 people worked. It was also found that 302.76 acres could be taken over. The cabinet decided to take over 151 acres from this for public use. The issue was taken to the court, which had stayed the government order.
Kadamakkudi Medical Tourism project
The government gave permission to set up a multi super speciality hospital on 47 acres in Kadamakkudi village in Ernakulam district as part of a plan to spread medical tourism in the state. This project involved investment of Rs 1,000 crore and 7,000 direct jobs. The permission of the multi super speciality hospital was granted in accordance with the environmental laws and the recommendations of the relevant committee.
The Kodimatha Mobility Hub is a big government project that can play a major role in the development of Kottayam by integrating transport bus stand, water sports and a shopping complex. The government has called for an expression of interest to avail land free of cost for this project. It is up to the next government to decide on the future of the project. Not even a foundation stone has been laid for the project.
A land can prosper only when it strikes a balance between environment and development. The United Democratic Front government is taking decisions with such a development agenda. At the same time, the government has been open to criticism. It had taken decisions with an open mind and even cancelled some of its orders. The interests of the state will be safeguarded.
Also, we cannot forget the land transactions that happened during the term of the Left Democratic Front government. The United Democratic Front, then sitting in the opposition, fought tooth and nail to correct the anti-people policies.
Let us recall the Merchiston Estate deal from five years ago. In 27 days, as many as 707 acres of land was transferred to an individual by denotifying the Merchiston Estate, which was earlier taken over by the government in accordance with the Kerala Forest (Vesting and Management of Ecologically Fragile Lands) Ordinance, 2000. Even a chief secretary resigned after the deal. The government rejected a demand to conduct a judicial enquiry into the deal and saved its ministers by making a few officers scapegoats.
The government handed over 1,004 acres of land in Chakkittapara, Mavoor and Kakkoor in Kozhikode district for a company from outside the state to mine for iron ore, brushing aside the strong objection of the Forest Department. The United Democratic Front government later cancelled the order. An LDF minister’s relative’s driver later revealed that the land deal involved a bribe of Rs 5 crore.
R Block, HMT
Farm labourers in the R Block in Kuttanad lost 200 acres of their land to a tourism company in which CPM leaders were involved. The labourers did not even realise that their land had been sold for a pittance. A party-level inquiry brought facts to the fore but the LDF government saved the perpetrators and abandoned the labourers. The successive UDF government took action to give the land back to the labourers.
HMT’s 70 acres of land, which had a value of at least Rs 500 crore, was sold to Mumbai-based Bluestar Realtors for Rs 91 crore. Objections from the revenue department and the law department were thrown to the wind, even though the government had no right to sell the land that belonged to the HMT.
The LDF government disregarded all norms to sign a memorandum of understanding to transfer the 246 acre Valanthakkad island in the Vembanad Lake to a private entrepreneur. The government presented the project as a public project even though it had not invested a single paise in it. The government had to drop the project after the UDF raised strong objections.
Massive land transactions were done in Kinaloor after a campaign that a Malaysian company was going to invest there. A land mafia bought almost all land there after a four-lane road was built there. The people who protested the loss of their land were beaten up.
The CPM and CPI competed against each other in encroaching on government land in Munnar. Even their party offices are situated in encroached land. Partymen encroached land in Kanan Devan Hills village and Velloor Hindustan Newsprint Ltd.
In Attappadi, 232 acres of tribal land was transferred to multinational company Suzlon to set up a wind farm. A village called Nallasinka was created for the purpose of registering 52 title deeds in the same survey number.
The CPM built an amusement park by encroaching on a mangrove on the banks of a river in the Pappinissery panchayat, disregarding the Coastal Regulation Zone Act and the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Lands and Wetlands Act.
The opposition was lamenting over the landless in Kerala after gifting thousands of acres of land to multinational companies and the land mafia.
The UDF government formed a project to transfer three cents of land to 58,392 landless people. Kannur, Kasaragod and Idukki districts do not have any landless people now. The UDF can emulate the achievements in the rest of the districts too. The LDF can only dream about such a thing. That is the difference between the UDF and the LDF.