Political strategy to partition Munnar Sunday, Aug 8 2010 

Munnar

Munnar - a birds-eye view

Politicians in Idukki have mooted a dual strategy to corner land in Munnar. They want to share Munnar town with traders. They have also earmarked part of the forest lands for apportioning among themselves. So, they oppose notification of 17922 acres of forests in the Kannan Devan Village as reserve forests.

The Munnar Ordinance was proposed to take over 1073.5 acres of leased land in and around the town from the KDH Plantation Company for development as a tourism centre. The plan is actually to issue titles to traders and others. It is not likely that anything in the form of planned development of Munnar would materialise during the tenure of the present government. Owing to legal hurdles, Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan has withheld reissue of the Ordinance.

Though the Central team and the Committee of Secretaries deputed by the State government has found that there were no encroachments on 17922 acres of land in possession of the Forest Department, the government is yet to notify the land. Forest Minister Benoy Viswam, who proposed the notification, faced Opposition in the Cabinet on the ground that there were settlers on the land and that some land would be needed for development and issue of titles to poor.

Now that the Central team has found that the land in question is forests without any encroachment, the Minister again pushed the proposal to notify the land. However, the LDF wanted it to be discussed in its State committee. From the State committee, it has been referred to the Idukki district committee. The views and plans of the district committee in the matter are already known. If the government went with the district committee, nothing other than further alienation of government lands would happen.

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Kurinji: Bloom that attracted half a million people Thursday, Sep 18 2008 

Kurinjil flowers in bloom

Neelakurinji in bloom

The bloom that attracted half a million visitors to Munnar in 2006 is back.

The legendary Neela Kurinji has bloomed this time about 35 km from Munnar, on a hill by the side of the Kochi-Madurai national highway.

The flowers this time is not as abundant as in 2006 though gregarious. They are inter- spersed with grass and bunches of kurinji flowers stand out amid them. Because of this and lesser publicity, there are fewer visitors to the hill close to the Mathikettan Shola National Park this time. And the flowers will dry up in a few weeks from now.

Kurnji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) flowers once in 12 years. However, not every group of plants completes their flowering cycles in the same year. So, there will be more than one gregarious bloom within 12 years at different locations. The Muthuva tribe used to count their age by the cycle of kurinji plants in their locality. And kurinji and its flowering is interwoven with the tribal lore and romanticism.

More about kurinji at Kurinji.in

Suspended from service for not being guilty Tuesday, Dec 11 2007 

Forests at Maruthuamala near PonmudiAll who stand for protection of environment and rule of law should condemn the suspension of Kerala Forest Officer Balakrishna Pillai from service.

The guilt of Mr. Pillai, who was divisional forest officer of Trivandrum Forest Division, is that he had reported that the land proposed to be given to Indian Space Research Organisation for developing the campus of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology is forest.

As about two dozen environmental activists and journalists, who visited the spot today, would confirm, the area is indeed forest. Mr. Pillai was only reporting the truth when he said that the area was forest with endemic trees such as chenkurinji (Gluta travancorica) and jewel orchid, though it might not have suited the machinations of those in power.

As a forest officer, Mr. Pillai is duty bound to report any event that would lead to destruction and alienation of forests.

Section 3B (Offences by the Authorities and Government Departments) of the Forest (Conservation) Act says that if any forest is assigned, diverted for non-forest purposes or otherwise destroyed officials in charge of shall be deemed guilty, proceeded and punished. The punishment specified is simple imprisonment for a period, which may extend to fifteen days.

Mr. Pillai acted in accordance with the law by reporting the situation to his superiors and avoided violation of the Act. He should have been punished if he had connived with higher ups in the State Government in their plan to clear the area and cut the trees, terming the area as revenue land for IIST campus.

Action is actually due against officials who issued orders diverting the forests for non-forestry purposes without clearance from the Central Government under the provisions of the Act.

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.

Related:

CPI takes on the retail chains

Munnar Mission statements

Space Institute threatens red data list tree Friday, Nov 23 2007 

Sapling of chenkurinji (Gluta travancorica)The near threatened Gluta travancorica are among that trees that would be destroyed if the campus of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology comes up on the land granted by the State Government.

The tree is in the red list of International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. It is endemic to the Western Ghats south of Aryankavu pass on the border of Kerala Tamil Nadu States in India. It produces the best ornamental wood in India. (The wood is generally not available in the market as the trees exist mostly in the protected sanctuaries and reserve forests of Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam districts of Kerala and Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.
The Chenduruny Wildlife Sanctuary in Kollam district is named after Gluta travancorica which is known as chenkurinji, chenduruny and shenduruney in local parlance.

Ponmudi: missing the woods for the trees Wednesday, Nov 21 2007 

Ponmudi– a birds eye view

The Kerala Government misses the woods for the exigencies of finding a site for the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST) at Ponmudi. The State Cabinet has decided to hand over 100 acres of wooded forests on the Ponmudi hills, adjoining the Merchiston and Ponmudi estates, to the Indian Space Research Organisation.

This should be seen as a set back to environmental activists who wanted ecology of the hills to be protected. Moreover, the decision would play into the hands of those who seek development of real estate in the area. Questions would arise why construction works could not be taken up in the nearby estates.

The Revenue Department actually conducted a study and more than 40 officials examined the documents, according to the Revenue Minister K.P. Rajendran. However, it did not occur to them that any woodland that comes within the dictionary definition of forest would come under the purview of the Forest (Conversation) Act. Alienation of such land for non-forestry would require forest clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Why did the Revenue officials turn a Nelson’s eye to the status of the vegetation when they conducted their study? Was it because of keenness that the State should not lose the Institute?

An allegation has already appeared in the Press that the Forest Department had claimed the area as forests because they wanted to help the Merchiston estate in their sale of land to Indian Space Research Organisation for the Institute. The Government, it was argued, will be forced to allow the use of the estate area for the Institute if an alternate site is not available.

However, it is notable that allotment of a wooded area for development of a residential campus close to the Merchiston estate would take the bottom out of the government’s own stand before the courts that the estate is a notified environmentally fragile area. If a forested area is not fragile, how can a tea estate near it fall in a fragile area? So, the estate can easily win its case against the Government.

There are five estates in the area. As per a decision of the previous government, they are allowed to develop tourist facilities in a limited manner. Now, the Industries Department has mooted a proposal that the Land Reforms Act should be repealed. This would lead to conversion and fragmentation of estates throughout the State. (Plantations enjoyed exemption from land ceilings under the Act. So, their status could not be altered.)

The situation would have been different if the Government asked some logical questions.

Isn’t the whole of Ponmudi hills environmentally fragile?

How can the Institute be located anywhere on the Ponmudi hills since building activities on the hills will need environmental clearance?

Can’t the Institute have its main campus in the plains?

Won’t it suffice if the Institute has a small facility at Ponmudi Hill Resort or on another hill for astronomical observations, without harming the environment?

Earlier post:

ISRO and high attitudes

How to protect sandalwood forests? Sunday, Nov 18 2007 

Sandalwood forests of MarayoorThe Kerala Forest Department is groping in the dark about how to protect its sandalwood wealth. Kerala’s sandalwood resources are concentrated in the forests of Marayur. The smugglers are always around as sandalwood fetches pretty good sums in the black market.

An idea struck the previous United Democratic Front (UDF) that sandalwood smugglers could be kept at bay by building a fence around the forests. The UDF Government awarded the contracts and kilometers of fence were completed during the LDF (Left Democratic Front) regime.

Detractors say that all this work was undertaken for the commissions in the contract. For the smugglers were even capable of using gas cutters to steal sandalwood. They proved right as the fence could so far snare only a few deers.

Meanwhile, the smugglers dared to attack the forest officials themselves. The officials want to quit Marayur as early as possible. The climate and conditions in the forests are not good, they say. But the question arises, why they became foresters and watchers if they could not bear the conditions in the forests.

They are not seeking transfer out of Marayur not without suggesting some solutions. Cut down all the mature sandalwood in the forests. Then the smugglers as well as the forest staff will not have any reason to be in Marayur. The younger trees have little value in the market and no one would want to take the trouble of cutting them.

The Department has already abandoned its plans for a sandalwood factory at Marayur for processing the wood. Though the Government had announced it in the budget, the proposal did not find favour with the Cabinet. What would the private sandalwood factory owners do if the Government takes over the business? They had fled to Andhra Pradesh after the Government banned their operations in the State. If it now cuts the supplies also, that would be going too far. The sandalwood mafia has friends in the LDF too.

Munnar: Mission statements Tuesday, Nov 6 2007 

Kerala Chief Minister V. S. AchuthanandanRepeated statements by the Kerala Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan that the Munnar mission is on course do not appear convincing. (The mission was all about evicting encroachers and demolishing unauthorised constructions).

Even if the Chief Minister is sincere, he is not going to the official cooperation required to carry out the task. Officials who took bold stand against the mafia had been ditched.

Many had participated in mission Munnar reluctantly as they have to act also against their colleagues who had aided the encroachers. Now, they would try not to antagonise corrupt officials in their own departments and politicians outside.

They have burned their fingers while the Chief Minister has lost his image. He also seems to be losing his support within the party. Officials would not fail to notice that.

Related blog:

Munnar muddle

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