THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The much sought-after tourist destination in Kerala, Munnar, was under siege. The hill station, famed for its tea estates and colonial bungalows, Nilgiri tahr and Neelakurinji, has been luring tourists and tour operators alike. After a wave of tourism-related activities, the government suddenly woke up to the fact that much of its land has been encroached upon by entrepreneurs.
The electricity department alone has lost 250 acres of land to encroachers. Revenue and forest departments are yet to assess the loss. On its second day into the eviction operation, officials razed many buildings and a private company's mobile tower and uprooted acres of vegetable orchards. Still the drive is getting nowhere near clearing the encroachments in the forest areas.
"We have decided to transfer those officials who have been serving in these talukas for years. That's another clean-up operation," revenue minister KP Rajendran said after a high-level meeting in Thiruvananthapuram. Forest minister Binoy Viswam added that the VS Achuthanandan government would not spare any encroacher in Munnar.
A government report has suggested penal action against 50 government officials in the affected talukas in Idukki district. Revenue principal secretary Nivedita P Haran was entrusted to look into the encroachment issue after opposition leader Oommen Chandy kept the issue alive by visiting the areas last week. Her report, submitted on Wednesday, calls for a master plan to monitor and regulate construction activities in the hill country.
Meanwhile, eviction drive was gaining momentum in Munnar. Officials razed mobile phone towers erected on the land of none other than the brother of the powerful CPI(M) district secretary MM Mani. Chandy had alleged that CPI(M) men had encroached large areas in Munnar.
CPI(M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, on a face-saving mission, had accused the leaders of Congress and its allies of land grabbing. A day after he named former ministers KM Mani and PP Thankachan as well as a few local Congressmen, the opposition went on a straight assault by putting out a list of comrades in the dock for illegal encroachment.
But the pace of the present eviction drive gives the right signals from chief minister VS Achuthanandan, who had led a long campaign against land grab in Munnar, particularly by Kanan Devan Hills Plantations Ltd. A Hyderabad-based agency is resurveying the land in question.