Kerala wildfire: Forest department to take back land from Hindustan Newsprint

Representational image. File Photo/Manorama

Kochi: The Kerala Forest Department is planning to immediately take back the captive forest land leased out to the central government-owned Hindustan Newsprint Limited (HNL) at Illikundu forest range at Kottambathur near Desamangalam in Thrissur district. The decision comes in the wake of Sunday's forest fire that killed three forest guards.

According to preliminary assessment, the fire might have spread to the forest from the dry wild grass in the acacia plantation, leased out to HNL.

Around 3,000 hectares of forest land was leased out to the HNL 15 years ago for growing wood for making paper pulp. Apart from Kottambathur, HNL procure wood from leased forest land in Kottayam and Munnar.


According to the forest officials, the HNL has not been maintaining the plantation after the company started incurring losses. 

“HNL has not been maintaining the plantations properly. So we will soon take back the land leased out to it. As the first step, we will issue a notice to HNL soon. We have to follow certain procedures as the lease period is not yet over,” a forest official told Onmanorama on Tuesday, on condition of anonymity.

Three forest guards--Divakaran, Velayudhan and Shankaran--were killed while trying to douse a wildfire at Illikundu forest range at Kottambathur near Desamangalam in Thrissur district.

He said a formal decision on the land recovery has yet to be taken.

“As an immediate step, we will take back the land in Thrissur. Similar procedure will be followed to recover the remaining land too,” the official said.

The Hindu on Monday reported that forest department's notices for initiating fire control measures in the plantation in the past few years had gone unattended.

Hindustan Newsprint Ltd
Hindustan Newsprint Ltd at Velloor in Kottayam

Apart from acacia, eucalyptus, a major raw material for paper production, is also raised in the plantations.

Located at Velloor in Kottayam, HNL is a central government enterprise under the administrative jurisdiction of the Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises. HNL was incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Hindustan Paper Corporation Limited (HPC) on June 07, 1983.

The Kerala government has expressed its interest in taking over the loss-making Kerala unit. In November, 2019, the National Company Law Tribunal had issued orders to hand over the HNL to Kerala government for Rs 25 crore.

State Finance Minister Thomas Isaac, in his recent budget, said that “the state government is willing to take over Hindustan News Print along with its liabilities.”

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