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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Munnar: the absence of shame Wednesday, Feb 10 2010 

Munnar

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.

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

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.

Munnar Mission takes path of least resistance Friday, Dec 21 2007 

EucalyptusThe new special officer of Munnar Mission (for eviction of encroachers and demolition of unauthorised constructions) K. M. Ramanandan is a wise man. Unlike his predecessor Suresh Kumar, he has not taken on the mighty. Instead, he has chosen the path of least resistance.

Suresh Kumar jumped into the fray on the very day of his posting to Munnar (Kerala, India). Ramanandan waited for several days before making his first move.

The land he identified for eviction was substantial in extent (nearly 700 acres) so that the Revenue Minister K. P. Rajendran could add a decent figure to his compilation of resumed lands. The advantage in resuming the land was that the encroachers were nowhere to be found. Apparently some people were planting and harvesting eucalyptus on the land in the Vattavada panchayat of Idukki district. But the official machinery had no clue of who was doing it! The seedlings would probably have come from the Forest Department as they only have large nurseries of eucalyptus.

So, it was a task cut easy for Ramanandan. There would be no court cases to fight. No political pressures to bear either. For the men behind the encroachments had deserted the area long before Ramanandan landed there. May be they did not have the kind of influence that saved many resorts in Munnar.

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