Man encroaching nature in the name of progress and for other selfish reasons has always been a sore point when it comes to discussions about climate change and ecological balance. As temperatures rise, it becomes even more crucial to discuss topics like these. Yesterday at zero hour at the Rajya Sabha, MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar and Vice Chairman of NDA in Kerala raised the question of Munnar Forests not being protected fully under the Forest Conservation Act, pointing out that the State Government hasn’t been punishing violators.
This area – Munnar, he said is being destroyed through a rampant culture of encroachment and lack of law enforcement – being done in active collusion with local political leaders and elements of the State Government.
He added, “This represents a serious threat to the ecological protection of Western Ghats, in 4 states namely Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Goa. Munnar is one of the most famous hill stations in Western Ghats, located at 1800 metres above MSL in Idukki District of Kerala. Munnar and adjoining areas like Cardamom Hill Reserve are identified as Eco-Sensitive Zone. This area is facing massive land encroachment and illegal constructions by influential persons supported by the local politicians including that of the people’s representatives of ruling front in the state.”
He indirectly blamed the State Government for not properly conserving this forest that houses three national parks run and managed by the State Revenue Department. He also pointed out that the Cardamom Hill Reserve in the area that is responsible for 70% production of cardamom in the country is identified as one of the biodiversity hotspots in Western Ghats.
According to a report by the Supreme Court appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) which visited Munnar in 2005, there are hundreds of forged patta (assignment) to encroach forest lands. It is also reported by the CEC that the list of encroachers includes the then Member of Parliament, relatives of ministers and political leaders. In 2010, the Central Government has constituted a Special Team to examine the violations of Forest (Conservation) Act in Munnar. The report of the team recommended for the strict implementation of Forest Conservation Act in Munnar. Most of the recommendations of the said report were not implemented, till date. Instead, the encroachments have been doubled after 2010, with the help of state machinery, MP Chandrasekhar stated.
In 2015, The National Green Tribunal took the matter into consideration and issued strict directions to the Kerala State to curb the encroachments, restore the areas and not to supply electricity connection for illegal constructions.
The MP urged the Central government to take a closer look into the issue and put pressure on the State Government by stating that any land use in violation of the Central Act is to be viewed seriously. The recommendations of the Central Empowered Committee on CHR in and Central Team report on Munnar has to be implemented in its letter and spirit, to conserve the remaining ecology of Munnar. All encroachments and illegal constructions in Munnar, Pallivasal and CHR should be evicted in a time bounded manner, under FC Act. Any construction in landslide prone High Hazard areas should be dismantled with immediate effect.
Cover image courtesy: Jaseem Hamza, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons