Thiruvananthapuram: The Kerala government is on the horns of a dilemma about giving nod only for agriculture, housing and allied activities on land once assigned to the landless and that too only for such beneficiaries in Idukki district. This move to curb construction activities has not passed the Supreme Court test as it wants such a restriction for other districts too. In order to bypass the latest apex court fiat, the government is considering amending the Land Assignment Rules, 1964.
The issue came up for discussion at an informal meeting held in the presence of A Jayathilak, the Principal Secretary of the Revenue Department. The meeting took place in the backdrop of the Supreme Court upholding the High Court order making the provisions of land assignment rules applicable not just to Idukki but to the entire state.
The apex court order could only be circumvented by amending the provisions of the Land Assignment Rules on assigning revenue land. The meeting observed that the government order issued on August 22, 2019, making the provision stringent only in Idukki district resulted in the set back in the Supreme Court. Such an order which circumvented the law passed by the Assembly should not have been issued at all.
With the apex order, the government has landed in a predicament. The court had asked as to how a law which is applicable to the entire state can be made stringent only in one district.
Revenue Minister E Chandrasekharan will hold discussions on the matter with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan after arriving in the Capital on November 25.
Why the issue
The government had decided to implement the rules for assigned land first in one village in the Kannan Devan Hills in Munnar and later in seven villages across Idukki. The villages are Kannan Devan Hills District, Chinna Canal, Shantanpara, Vellathooval, Anavilasam, Pallivasal, Anaviratti and Bison Valley of Munnar.
The government had decided to implement the rule for assigned lands only in Idukki based on the assessment that if the provisions of the Land Registration Act and rules are implemented all over Kerala, then those owning little land will find it difficult to carry out necessary building construction.
Earlier, more than an acre of land was allotted to the landless, but that is no longer the practice as only a few cents are allocated, primarily to build a house.
In other districts, the order to limit construction may adversely affect those who have received a limited amount of assigned land.
Delay in amendment led to legal setback
The present crisis could have been avoided had the law been amended soon after the High Court ruled that No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Village Office was required for construction on leased land under the Land Assignment Rules.
A legal battle on the issue had started 10 years ago when an environmental group approached the High Court in 2010
against encroachments in and around Munnar. Subsequently, the court banned construction except for housing in eight villages, including Munnar, under the Land Registration Act.
The petition was filed in the High Court challenging the state government's earlier order bringing stringent control in construction activities in the above-mentioned eight villages of Idukki district. This led to the court order which made NOC mandatory for construction activities in assigned land across the state.
At that time the government could have amended and restricted the provisions of the rule to Idukki district. However, the government went to the Supreme Court with the expectation that the order would get ratified.
The people in other districts who received title deeds have already constructed industrial and commercial establishments on the said land. Many people have also started quarries.
If the High Court verdict is made applicable, all buildings constructed during this period are likely to be rendered illegal. According to estimates, there are about 20 lakh small and big constructions, barring houses, in leased land across the state. The owners of these buildings might get into trouble if cases were to be filed against them locally. The present crisis can be circumvented only through amendment to the existing law.