Munnar: the absence of shame Wednesday, Feb 10 2010 


Munnar - a birds-eye view

Politicians have a thick hide. Nothing proves that better that their statements and behavior over Munnar encroachments. The Chief Minister continues to state that all encroachers would be evicted whoever they are.  But it is three years since his mission to evict the encroachers began.  Meanwhile the area under encroachments has only grown.

None is afraid of the Tatas, said Forest Minister Benoy Viswam two years ago. Revenue Minister K. P. Rajendran also said something similar about Malayalam plantations. But till today, they could not even collect a decent rent on the leases not to speak of violation of lease terms.

CPI leaders unabashedly say that they would stay in quarters given by the Kannan Devan Hill Produce Company as trade union leaders. The CPI (M) member of the Assembly challenged even party directive about returning the house he claims to have “rented” from the company.

To divert attention from the continuing encroachments in Munnar, the Cabinet subcommittee made quixotic attempts to break open electric fencing and gates put up by the company and demolish their check dams.  Tribals were mobilised in Wayanad to encroach upon allegedly “excess lands. (Well, it was the LDF government which failed to distribute lands to tribals during the past three and half years.)

Instead of evicting the encroachers in Munnar, the actual plan of the politicians is to issue more titles. Like the so called Raveendran pattayams, the politicians and the land mafia would reap the benefits. If at all, some poor get the land, that is not going to remain with them for long.

LDF seeing reason Monday, Jun 15 2009 

The LDF is seeing reason. However, it is still far from convinced that the Governor R. S. Gavai did his constitutional duty.

Egged by parties such as the CPI and RSP, the CPI (M) has resolved itself to take the legal course in the SNC Lavalin case win which party State secretary Pinarai Vijayan is the seventh accused. They still say that the Governor acted without authority. According to the CPI (M), the Governor is an official of the Central Government. If it cared to look at the Constitution, it can be seen that the Governor is not an official but a Constitutional authority and Supreme Court verdicts show that he had discretionary powers to allow the prosecution of Mr. Vijayan disregarding the opinion of the Cabinet.

All this shows that the LDF is far from redeeming itself after the crushing defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. Though they acknowledge that the SNC Lavalin case played a role in their losing public support, they are unwilling to change their policies. Instead, they are trying to hoodwink the public by raising technicalities of the Governor’s decision.

It is also notable that a section of the leaders in both the CPI and the RSP is in favour of the line of official faction of the CPI (M). This is suppressing a rebellion by the others.

Sparring between CPI(M) and CPI is a storm in a tea cup Thursday, Mar 5 2009 

CPI State Secretary Veliyam Bhargavan

CPI State Secretary Veliyam Bhargavan

The sparring between the CPI and the CPI (M) over the Ponnani Lok Sabha seat will end up as a storm in a tea cup. The spat between party CPI (M) State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and CPI State secretary Veliyam Bhargavan is intended to hoodwink the voters.

True that some CPI leaders are not comfortable with the PDP’s virtual membership in the LDF. While CPI (M) is no more ashamed of alliance with PAP leader Abdul Nasir Maudhani, whom the BJP describe as the father of religious fundamentalism in Kerala, the CPI don’t want to appear to be too close to PDP.

However, it is notable that the CPI’s minimum demand is that the independent candidate proposed for Ponnani need not contest on party symbol, but should become part of CPI Parliamentary party on victory and be subject to party’s whip. This is not an issue over which the two parties would part ways. Both know that victory in Ponnani is a remote possibility and there is little point in quarreling over whether the winner would be in the CPI Parliamentary party.

CPI’s real grouse is that the Hussein Randathani, proposed by the CPI (M) and PDP, had refused to play ball with the CPI as independent candidate fielded by the CPI. He would become acceptable to CPI if he makes some amends.

Suresh Kumar can seek whistle blower protection Tuesday, Dec 9 2008 

Remains of Cloud Nine Resort demolished by Government

Remains of Cloud Nine Resort demolished by Government

Kerala Chief Secretary P. J. Thomas has issued show cause notice to former Additional Secretary to the Chief Minister K. Suresh Kumar for his remarks against the personal staff of the Chief Minister and functioning of the Chief Minister’s Office.

Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan has once again demonstrated his weakness by succumbing to the demand for Mr. Kumar’s blood. Mr. Kumar was obviously speaking in defence of the Chief Minister also in attacking the personal staff who had criticised the Chief Minister in the CPI (M) State Committee, though it can be asked how far it served the purpose.

In any case, Mr. Kumar was speaking the plain truth. He was not speaking against any policy of the government. He was rather speaking in support of them. He is pointing out that the Chief Minister’s Office had failed to carry out government policies and even undermined them. So, he can seek whistle blower protection for disclosing the truth about a key office of the government. It had been dysfunctional because of multiple afflictions—political partisanship, inexperience and ineptness.

A larger question is whether a Chief Minister elected to the Office with popular support is not entitled to choose his personal staff. Mr. Achuthanandan needed qualified, capable and effective staff because his own knowledge and experience in administration was extremely limited. However, in a bid to take control of the Office, the party posted people who were inexperienced or inefficient. The result was for all to see. The Chief Minister could never insist on having an Office he needed for carrying out his direct and implied promises to the electorate.

This is not to say that Mr. Kumar was faultless. He often appeared to be impulsive. There was no justification for his mowing down the tea plants of Tata Tea on the roadsides from the environmental or tactical point. The uprooting of the plants during monsoon caused soil erosion. Tactically, he could have persuaded the Tatas to surrender the land without the use of force if the government had the necessary determination. He should also have not tried to demolish the windows of a resort on the very day the case relating to the resort was before the High Court.

The Chief Minister needed a wise, diplomatic person with cold determination to carry out the Munnar mission instead of mavericks. It appears that the Chief Minister under-estimated the complexity and sensitiveness of the task and difficulties in fulfilling the objectives. In several cases, the government could have taken over the buildings instead of demolishing them. He also seems to have miscalculated the political opposition he would face even from his own camp in Idukki district. For strategic reasons, he should also have not alienated the CPI. There was no need for VS to try an image building exercise in Munnar as he already had the image gained as the Opposition Leader. He could have allowed the CPI ministers to carry on with their image building exercises, and in the process, trapped them into carrying out his vision (or mission).

Update (11/12/08): As an IAS Officer, Mr. Suresh Kumar can approach the Central Administrative Tribunal challenging his suspension from service (orders were served on Thursday.) However, it seems that he cannot approach the Central Vigilance Commission for whistle blower protection as the Commission has no jurisdiction over private individuals and State Governments. Kerala government has no law or resolution for whistile blower protection.

Related Posts:
Munnar: Mission statements
Chief Minister Achuthanandan’s challenge
Munnar Mission takes path of least resistance
Politics is the art of the possible

Special economic zones: CPI leader’s somersault Sunday, Oct 5 2008 

CPI State Secretary Veliyam Bhargavan

CPI State Secretary Veliyam Bhargavan

It is all clear for the special economic zones from the CPI. The CPI State secretary Veliyam Bhargavan has changed his stand overnight. If he was anticipating riots over special economic zone the previous day, it all became an instrument of progress the next day.

How this transformation came out is anybody’s guess. Some say that it is the pressure from the big brother CPI (M). Some like the Communist Marxist Party leader M. V. Raghavan say the differences were all about sharing of spoils. A veteran communist like Veliyam Bhargavan would not easily change his views. He has also the history of having resisted the big brother on a number of times. So, what happened? Mr. Raghavan’s suggestion appears to be more plausible.   (Mr. Bhargavan himself has not given any reason for his change of mind.)

A senior official once told this writer that what is in the way of development in the country is not militant trade unionism, but political corruption. While it would suffice to bribe only two in Tamil Nadu, you have to cater continuously to a large number of leaders ranging from the local trade union leader to those at top in Kerala. Many managements found this very difficult to cope with. Note that the AITUC is still revolting despite the volte-face by Mr. Bhargavan.

Note: Somesault is literal translation of the Malayalam usage ‘Malakammariyal’. It means a volte-face.

Chief Minister’s election stunt Wednesday, Oct 1 2008 

Kerala Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan at Munnar

Kerala Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan

The Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan is once again in Munnar. This time, he is less formidable, and again wants to play to the gallery.

Faced with opposition from within his party and the CPI, he had been doing nothing about encroachments in Munnar for the past one and a half years. Now, the Chief Minister and the CPI are presenting a picture of cohesion. The CPI (M) also appears to have allowed him to go ahead with his antics.

The secret: the coming Lok Sabaha elections. Both the CPI and CPI (M) do not mind if the Chief Minister’s antics would bring some votes. The local leaders of the Left parties will keep their political territory safe by speaking against Mr. Achuthanandan. Things can be “pushed back to normal” once the elections are over. The Chief Minister is not going to rebel.

Mr. Achuthanandan has now declared some areas falling between the Tata Tea (now Kannan Devan Tea Company) estates at Chokkanad would be taken over and distributed to the landless. His populist plans to distribute the land to landless will lead to fragmentation and change in land use pattern around Munnar, in the absence of a proper plan.
Munnar will now face further degradation of its environment:
The impression that some of the land that lay in between the estates of Tata Tea belonged to the company prevented encroachments and fragmentation for decades. (This is not to deny or confirm the allegation that the company is in possession of government land as reported by Legislature committees or argue against resumption of government lands. See previous posts. )

Even if the government does not distribute the resumed land to the landless, they would be encroached upon. There would also be demands for using the land for various “public purposes”. The only other option is to turn over the plantations and forest areas to the Forest Department. However, Mr. Achuthanandan himself has announced that the 90 acres at Chokkanad would be distributed to the landless. Most of these landless are going to be party men as had happened in the two previous title distribution melas in Munnar.

In this regard, it should be noted that the government made no effort during the past year to draw up the master plan recommended by Principal Secretary (Revenue) Nivedita P. Haran in her report on the encroachments in and around Munnar. Proper mechanism to monitor land use should be put in place before any of the resumed lands are distributed.

LDF celebrates two years of infigting Saturday, May 10 2008 

Kerala SecretariatThe Left Democratic Front government is “celebrating” its second anniversary this month, though there is nothing to celebrate.

The ministry had long lost collective responsibility. The infighting in CPI (M) and fight between the CPI (M) and CPI on issues range from the silly (who gets credit) to the serious (Budget allocations, corruption) have stalled many initiatives of the Government.

The fight had started with the allocation of portfolios to the Ministers itself. The first casualty was perhaps the environment policy. Then the eviction of encroachers at places such as Munnar and Vagamon, administration of the Devaswom Board, Kisansree project, policy on sale of land belonging to the Merchiston estate were hit by differences in the ministry and the Front.

The latest is the stalling of integrated food security project and the competition to buy rice from West Bengal. (It is too early to predict the results of the last adventure— teams sent by the CPI (M) Minister for Cooperation and CPI Minister for Food and Civil Supplies were in West Bengal, scouting for rice. The CPI (M) team is said to have secured some rice through CPI (M) leaders in West Bengal. The fate of team sent by the CPI Minister is not yet known). Not to be behind, the RSP stalled moved to declare protected area in Vembanad lake.

Officials ditch the Communist party! Wednesday, Nov 28 2007 

CPI State headquarters in TrivandrumIf the Communist Party of India leaders of Kerala are to be believed, the officials in the State are conspiring against the party.

When the party submitted an application for title to four cents of Government land at Munnar, some nasty official changed it to eleven cents. Then he faked the signature of the then party State secretary and former Chief Minister of Kerala P. K. Vasudevan Nair.

The officials did not stop with that. One Tahasildar reported that Mr. Nair was the resident of Munnar and was engaged in agriculture. Finally, the title was granted under rules that stipulated that it could only be used for agricultural or residential purposes. The party was oblivious of all this when it built a tourist cum office complex on the land.

Years later, another official, in charge of National Highways, demolished the front portion of the three-storeyed building on the ground that the party had encroached upon the land earmarked for the high way. When the party showed its title, a higher officer said that it was invalid. The party had to get a few officials shifted before the building could be saved from demolition.

The party’s woes did not end there. Its Forest Minister Binoy Viswam almost had to resign because a Chief Conservator did not inform him that the land in which he permitted cutting of trees for running a tea factory was actually notified ecologically fragile land (deemed forest). This was also the land coveted by the Indian Space Research Organisation for its Institute of Space Science and Technology.

Knowing well that this would mean trouble, the Government found some revenue land in the Agasthyakoodam Biosphere Reserve for the Institute. But, a divisional forest officer reported that the area was forest and qualified to be termed ecologically fragile (indicating that it could not be given away like that). To clear all these mess, the Government had to take action against them—the former for not keeping the Government well-informed, and the latter for informing it of unwanted matters.

The troubles did not end there. The police arrested a local councilor of the party on charges of a non-bailable offence after she violently protested against retail chains and slapped a woman police constable. The party State secretary and two Ministers had to rush to the police control room to bail her out. Now, the Opposition is demanding that the Ministers should resign for breaching oath of office, the Constitution and what not by forcibly securing the release of an accused. The only solace was that the police did not register a case against the Ministers and the councilor for obstructing the police from doing their lawful duties.


CPI takes on the retail chains

Munnar Mission statements

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