Kerala Congress (M), UDF join hands against CPI over forest land

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Thiruvananthapuram, March 6 (IANS) The opposition Kerala Congress (Mani) and the UDF joined hands on Tuesday to slam the CPI for playing into the hands of the land mafia that may cause the loss of a significant amount of land to the Forest Department.

In an interesting grouping of political forces, the state assembly witnessed after a long time the Kerala Congress (Mani)-led by veteran legislator K.M.Mani and the Congress-led United Democratic Front joining forces against the CPI — the second biggest ally of the ruling Pinarayi Vijayan government.

They attacked State Forest Minister P. Raju, a senior leader of the CPI, over the manner in which his department “could lose” a huge area of the 7,000 acres of vested forest land to a group of individuals.

Mani on Tuesday with the help of the UDF, sought leave for an adjournment motion stating that the government counsel representing the Forest Department purposely failed to fight with sincerity the case filed by private parties in the Kerala High Court over the forest land.

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This was the first time that Mani and the UDF joined hands on the floor of the assembly, after the former split with the UDF more than a year back.

“It has now come to a stage that due to the callous attitude of the government counsel, who failed to present the facts of the case in right earnestness, the title deed to the huge forest cover could well go away from the hands of the state government,” Mani said.

It was in 1905 that this area was listed as a forest and the case has been going on since then.

Finally in 1981, a single bench of the Kerala High Court ruled in favour of the state, which a full bench upheld in 2001.

“Then these private individuals fighting the case approached the Supreme Court, which directed the High Court to have a re-look and it’s here that the Forest Department and the counsel played truant and let down the interest of the state.

“Forcing the court to give an almost favourable verdict to the individuals which states that the title deeds be given to the individuals while the state would own the land — this has now turned to be a tricky position,” said Mani.

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He added that if the state government does not employ senior counsels from the Supreme Court, this forest land could well disappear.

But Raju played down the allegations and said the state government has already filed a revision petition.

“The opposition is using this to play politics…We will see to it that we give title deeds to 414 families, who have been living in the area prior to 1977.

“We will ensure that they are given proper title deeds, unlike the previous Congress-led government which gave false title deeds,” said Raju.

However, Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said Raju’s statement is like saying, “operation successful, but patient is dead”.

“This is a clear-cut case of conspiracy that has been hatched at the highest level. It was during our tenure that we managed to establish that this is forest land.

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“But now it has been handed on a platter to the land mafia. The case has been going on for several decades and this is the first time that the state government counsel played into the hands of the mafia.

If the state government fails to act quickly, then precious forest land will be lost, said Chennithala.

Later the entire opposition walked out of the assembly.

All through the attack against Raju by the combined opposition, it was only the CPI legislators who stood up to defend their Minister, with the CPI-M legislators not showing much enthusiasm.

It was the CPI which has been going hammer and tongs at Kerala Congress (Mani), who along with his group of six legislators, had been contemplating to move to the Left fold.

The CPI — the biggest ally in the ruling Vijayan government — has been strongly opposed to this move for a while now.

–IANS

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