Kerala forest officials face CPI-M wrath over land dispute

June 19th, 2008 - 4:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Mananthavadi (Kerala), June 19 (IANS) A Kerala farmer’s three-decade old legal battle with the forest department for the ownership of land has taken a violent turn with activists of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) carrying out attacks on the forest offices in Wayanad district. A forest department employee suffered serious injuries when the activists attacked the office of the North Wayanad Forest Division in Mananthavadi, about 90 km from Kozhikode, Tuesday.

A day earlier, another forest office under the division also faced a similar attack. Following these incidents, forest department staff in the division went on a day’s strike Wednesday.

The department faced the wrath of CPI-M activists after officials registered cases against party leaders and workers who cleared the forest and undertook farming activities in the disputed land to help the aggrieved farmer.

The activists were led by legislators P. Krishnaprasad and C.K. Padmanabhan, who also are leaders of CPI-M’s farmers’ organisation Karshaka Sangham.

The disputed land belongs to farmer Kanjirathil George. In 1964, he bought the 12 acre land located in Kanjirangad village, around 20 km from here. However, the forest department took over the land in 1975, claiming that it came within an area notified under the Kerala Forests (Vesting and Assignment) Act, 1971.

George approached the forest tribunal and Kerala High Court against the action of the department, but he lost the case in 2003.

In September 2007, George was granted ownership of the land following an inspection by a team of officials from the revenue and forest departments. The inspection was done following initiatives by CPI-M leaders at the government level.

However, the forest department was reluctant to accept this, citing legal problems.

“The government order did not take into consideration the verdict given by the court earlier. The court had rejected George’s contention. If we go against it, the court will initiate action against us,” a forest official told IANS on condition of anonymity.

However, CPI-M leaders say this is injustice. “When the inspection was done, I was there with the team of officials. The verification clearly found that George’s land did not come under the notified forest area,” says Krishnaprasad.

George’s family also believes that some forest officials are conspiring against them.

“There was a high court direction in 1995, which asked the government to provide land to George as done in the case of others who encroached forest land before 1977. However, the forest department opposed this and said this is not possible in our case,” said K.K. James, George’s son-in-law, who is a farm labourer.

With the CPI-M determined to take on the forest department over the issue, officials say they are feeling demoralised and threatened.

“It is impossible to work unless we get proper security. We are not protecting the forest for our personal benefit. If the government and society have no interest in this why should we bother about it?” said an official of the North Wayanad Forest Division.

He said he won’t go to his office unless security is ensured.

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