Polders of Kuttanad (kayal land)

The CPI (M) is practicising Marxism in the reverse gear whether it is in West Bengal or Kerala. The original slogan of communists was land for the tillers. Now, it is tiller’s land for business houses.

There may be historical justifications for both the postures. The problem is that the communists are using the same method they advocated to take away land from the landlords- violence, to take away land from the tillers. In Nadigram (West Bengal) the party is fighting the peasants through the barrel of the gun. In Kuttanad in Kerala, they used trickery, instead.

The land in question in Kuttanad is part of hundreds of hectares of land reclaimed from backwaters (polders) by an enterprising farmer Joseph Muricken before independence for paddy cultivation. It was done on the basis of a call from the then Maharaja of Travancore for production of more food in the princely State (following food shortages during the second World War).

The Kerala Government took over the polders early in the seventies under the Defence of India Rules and subsequently distributed the land to agriculture workers. Though Muricken was successful in profitably cultivating paddy, neither the Government nor the collectives of agricultural workers organised by the Government thereafter succeeded in carrying forward cultivation profitably. (Because a polder is a single unit for dewatering and other purposes, no worker could cultivate fragmented units individually.)

Then, a cooperative controlled by the CPI (M) entered the scene with the promise of a scheme to ensure returns from the land  in one of the polders. (The polder in question—R block, was not the creation of Muricken. Its reclamation was a collective effort. The Murickens, however, had land there, which was taken over and distributed to the agriculture workers as excess land).  All titleholders pledged their land to fund the project. But, the project failed and the land was put up for auction without the knowledge of the former agriculture workers. The auction was allegedly not conducted properly and the land went into the hands of developers of tourism facilities at very low prices. Those behind the operation are alleged to have received large sums in commissions. Some enquiries are underway amidst allegations that the CPI (M) led Government is protecting them.

(Part II)