Saturday, February 21, 2009

MUNNAR-Rape of the Nature

The area totally green. Thick forest. Gigantic trees. Long grass grown to 3 meters height. Roar of tigers, leopards and elephants all around. Other than these only the Muthuvan tribal people are there’. This was Munnar of 1817 seen by Benjamin Ward and Corner during the survey for the British.

Scenario changes.

1. 1877- Maharaja of Poonjar gave Kannan Devan Hills on lease to one John Daniel Munroe.

2. With the specific condition that the rivers, streams, backwaters, forest and meadows will not be disturbed or encroached and coffee cultivated without cutting the dense forest.

3. Munroe formed Travancore Planting & Agriculture Society. Handed over the company to British Finlay & Moore Company.

4. Tata joined the Compnay and formed the joint venture Tata Finlay Company in 1964. Tata bought all the shares and in 1983 the company fully owned by Tata group. Instead of coffee they planted tea. Tata Finlay Company had only 23000 acres tea plantation.

5. In 1971 as part of the land reforms initiative, the Achutha Menon ministry brought “Kannan Devan Hills Resumption of Land Act” taking over land in Kannan Devan Hills for distributing to the landless poor. Kannan Devan Hills had 1,37,441 acre land including 23000 acres tea estate of Tatas. The Poonjar King deal was pre-independence and as such Kerala Government had the full authority over the land. Tata had by that time sold 10,000 acres of the Government land unauthorized. The remaining 1,27,441 acres taken over by the Government by the Act. The President of India gave consent to the Act on 21st April, 1971 and it was published in extra-ordinary gazette of 22nd April, 1971.Tata went to Supreme Court. The Hon’ Supreme Court rejected Tata’s appeal and approved the legal validity of the Act on 27th April, 1972.

6. The Act which was enacted to distribute the land to the landless was sabotaged by the Land Board and the Expert Committee. Land Board confession can be seen in its award. “Unfortunately, this preliminary survey and demarcation of the concession area into various blocks had not been done for reasons not known.”

7. In addition to the 23,000 acres land of Tata’s tea cultivation Tata were given another 57,192 acres of land, for firewood growing and as land lying in between their tea estates, by the Land Board on lease. If the land lying in between their tea estates were given to the landless, it will hamper the smooth working of their tea estates, the Land Board reasoned. So the land of 70,522 acres of land in Kanan Devan Hills entrusted with the Government of Kerala as per the Act is lying scattered among the tea estates of Tatas. All this land minus that given to Eravikulam Park is still with the Tatas.

8. Assembly Committee headed by Nalakathu Sooppy in its report reiterates the fact that Tata is in possession of Government land and even selling it and making profit of crores of rupees. Idukki District Collector’s report No. 80522/R.3/95/RD shows the sale of lease land and Government land by Tata. Sub-collector of Devikolam had issued order on 24th Septrember, 1994 canceling the land sale of Tata. The assurance committee recommends review of the 1971 Act and incorporation of provisions to prevent misuse of land by Tata.

9. The next, Isah Kurikkal Committee Report says that Land Board has not given land properly but only by random checking and about 50,000 acres of Government land is unauthorisedly possessed by Tatas and they are selling it.

10. From the admissions of Land Board and the Expert Committee it is crystal clear that land was given to Tata in Kannan Devan Hills without measuring and without demarcating. It is also clear that the Land Board award and the Expert Committee Report were prepared according to Tata’s needs.

11. As per 2001 census, 85000 is the population of Munnar and 99% of it is landless. Munnar Grama Panchayat does not have a cent of land there. Tata in their letter dated 4th October 1999 to Kerala Revenue Minister admits that they have sold land to many in Munnar town and along with it given to the Government land on lease and as gift. As example they point out the 15 acres of land given on lease to Sports Council for high altitude stadium. How Tatas, the leaseholder of the Kerala Government can lease same land to the Government? For the bus stand and other they have gifted 1.39 acres in Munnar town, they claimed. It seems that Tata sold Government land for resorts.

12. Tata did not stop here. They are encroaching valuable forest also. Chenduvarai sholai forest is of 1253.39 acres in Survey No. 127/1-2. By virtue of the1971 Act, 949.20 acres vested with Government and 304.18 acre given on lease to Tatas. Idukki District Collector reported on 28th October 2008 that Tata encroached this sholay forest lying just near the Kanthallor and Marayur rain shadow areas and burned it.

13. 18000 acres in the 70000 vested in the Government was handed over to Forest Department vide G.O. M.S.279/80RTdated 18th April, 1980 and as there is no demarcation it is alleged that every year Tatas encroaches the forest land and convert it to tea estates. Munnar DFO Justin Mohan vide letter No.7-8418/2006 dated 22nd June 2006 informed HQ about the encroachments of sholay forests by Tatas and same day Highrange conservator also filed similar report. But no action seems taken and the destruction of forests continues.

14. Tata’s 21 tea factories are running without permission and Munnar Panchyat has issued closure notice in 2002. But Tata, the sole supplier of electricity took vengeance by disconnecting power.

15. MS Swaminathan Commission in its report describes the environmental disaster in Munnar due to the Tata enclorachments. Rain has come down drastically in the last 73 years. Atmospheric temperature has gone up. Main reasons re destruction of forest and the cultivation of eucalyptus trees. Tata has 18,000 acres of eucalyptus cultivation converting the sholay forests. Eucalyptus grown in the guise of firewood is actually sold to many such as Rallis India in Tamil Nadu.

16. We had hope when the special group started clearing operations in Munnar. But it was short-lived.

17. Munnar is like an independent territory inside our State run by Tatas. Forest destruction is going unchallenged. If it is allowed without checks valuable forests will vanish for ever from Munnar. It will be total disaster for not only for our State but for the whole universe.

18. There seems to be nobody to save us from this catastrophe. Moreover we should not wait for somebody to appear to save us. We ourselves have to take up this mission. It is a great relief that environmentalists are still there. Let us put our sincere efforts to stop this massive destruction of nature. Victory will be ours.

19. We can take all the details from the Government through the Right to Information Act. We can request the help of judiciary to make the authorities to conduct survey to ascertain the actual land in the hands of Tata. We can do a lot more. Let us come together and save our earth for us and for the generations to come.