Kochi: Paddy land purchased after the enactment of the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act in 2008 cannot be converted into residential plots, a full Bench of the High Court of Kerala had said.
The intention of the Act should be upheld while allowing the conversion of paddy land. People might have bought paddy land after 2008, but exemption to convert the land under sections 5(3) and 9 of the Act could not be extended to them.
The norms are applicable even to original owners, who have been holding the field even before the Act was enacted. The original owner should not have land elsewhere in the same district.
Currently, only a maximum of 4.04 Are in panchayats, and 2.2 Are in municipality/corporation areas could be converted based on the recommendations of the local-level monitoring committee. The panel would take into consideration the impact the conversion would have on adjacent fields, the full bench observed, while considering a batch of petition by an Aluva resident, E K Sabeena , and others.
The court further observed that if a land owner sold one acre of paddy field to 10 persons, and all 10 converted it into residential plots, the purpose of the Act would be defeated. The bench rejected the argument that those who had purchased the land after 2008, too, were equally entitled to apply for the conversion of land like pre-2008 owners.
Rejecting the applications, the court drew attention to the purpose of the Act. The government enacted the Act with an aim to protect paddy fields by preventing their use for other purposes. The court could interpret the Act only after considering the purpose of its enactment, the bench said.
Elaborating, the court held that the government had brought in the Act to allow the use of paddy fields reclaimed before 2008, prevent the misuse of land included in the data bank, and to protect the paddy fields that existed when the Act was enacted.
The full bench upheld the correctness of law applied by a single bench while denying permission to a land owner, who had purchased the property after 2008, to reclaim the land in Thankachan vs District Collector case.
The court also observed that the judgment of a division bench in the Yousuf Chalil v State of Kerala case was incorrect since it was in contravention of the Act. The division bench had allowed reclamation of the land to the owner.
The case was referred to the full bench after a single bench doubted the correctness of the judgment by a division bench.
The court directed the local monitoring committee at Thycattussery to relook into the reclamation application of an Alappuzha resident, P Jinimol, since her paddy field was part of a settlement deed. The bench rejected all other petitions by those who had purchased the land after 2008.
Kerala was once self-sufficient in paddy production but several farmers took up other profitable options. Buildings for various purposes were constructed after reclaiming the paddy fields.
The Kerala Land Utilisation order of 1967 had a provision allowing land owners to reclaim paddy fields after getting the respective collector's permission. The Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act was enacted on October 12, 2008, after finding that the Land Utilisation order was ineffective.
The court also pointed out that the Act was amended in 2011, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2020, to address various issues.