Kuzhalnadan vs Pinarayi Part III: CM's ploy to grant land ceiling exemption for CMRL

Pinarayi Vijayan, Mathew Kuzhalnadan | File Photo: Manorama
Pinarayi Vijayan, Mathew Kuzhalnadan. Photo: Manorama

In Part III of Mathew Kuzhalnadan's attack on Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the Congress MLA has said that the Chief Minister had intervened "directly and illegally" to exempt Cochin Minerals and Rutile Limited (CMRL) from land ceiling norms.

At a press conference held in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday, Kuzhalnadan said that the CM went out of his way to meddle in the affairs of Revenue Department, a department not under his direct watch, and created conditions to revive a CMRL request for exemption from Land Reforms Act that was rejected at least twice.

In the first part of his expose, Kuzhalnadan had said that four mining leases, which were granted and revoked in 2004, could not be restored to CMRL despite Pinarayi’s best efforts. Since the V S Achuthanandan and Oommen Chandy governments, too, were unwilling to grant the leases even after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of CMRL, Kuzhalnadan said on Monday that Kerala Rare Earths and Minerals Limited (KREML), a company promoted by CMRL, had purchased over 60 acres at the Thrikkunnapuzha-Arattupuzha belt in Alappuzha for the construction of a mining and mineral complex.

In 2012, the company sought exemption for 51 acres under Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963. Under the Act, a company can possess not more than 15 acres. The Act, however, exempted industrial units from land ceiling if it could be proved that the project served public interest. The Act had set conditions like Rs 10 crore investment per acre and employment for 20 people per acre to qualify a project as having public interest.

The final decision on exemption rested with the district-level committee set up under the Act to examine the proposal for exemption. "No one can subvert the district-level committee's findings," Kuzhalnadan said.

The proposal submitted by KREML in 2012 was rejected by the district-level committees many times. The last rejection was made on May 4, 2021.

CMRL then wrote directly to the Chief Minister asking him to call back the file and reconsider its application favourably. Kuzhalnadan said that instead of forwarding the submission to the Revenue Department, the CM convened a meeting to create the necessary conditions to once again reconsider the CMRL exemption proposal. Kuzhalnadan produced official notes that showed that after the CM’s intervention it was decided to once again put up KREML's proposal for exemption to the district-level committee.

This time, the project underwent a change. A mining and minerals complex gave way to a tourism project with a potential to employ 300 people, a solar project with an estimated employment potential of 100, and also a working women's consortium that could provide employment to 30-odd women.

The proposal was sent to a new district-level committee formed after the CM's intervention. The sanction was granted.

According to Kuzhalnadan this was illegal for two reasons. One, a land ceiling case was already pending against KREML; this was one of the reasons why previous committees rejected the applications for exemption. And two, in the 51 acres for which exemption was sought the employment generation should have been over 1000 (51x20) and not the 430 in the KREML proposal.

Interestingly, the Revenue Department has not yet granted its approval for the exemption citing the pending ceiling case. "The Revenue Department might still not have put its foot down but the approval of the district-level committee has opened the door for CMRL to take the government to court. If a district-level committee had made a recommendation, the government has no option but to accept it," Kuzhalnadan said.

Part I - Mining leases

In the first part, Kuzhalnadan had produced official documents to show that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vjayan had tried his best to restore four mining leases, valued at around Rs 1000 crore, to CMRL. Former Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan had adhered to the Left policy decision not to allow mining in the private sector. The Oommen Chandy dispensation, too, had followed suit. Both the LDF and UDF government had legally fought to deny the lease to CMRL.

The leases were originally granted by the A K Antony government in 2004 but they had to be withdrawn following stiff public protests. Though the CMRL had secured favourable verdicts from courts, the former LDF and UDF government refused to prt with the leases and in 2019, in a big blow to the CMRL, the Centre had prohibited private mining of atomic minerals and had asked states to issue termination notices.

Even then Kuzhalnadan said Pinarayi sought ways to grant the leases to CMRL. Kuzhalnadan linked these efforts of Pinarayi to the flow of money to Veena's company from CMRL.

Part II - Ilmenite treasure

In the second part, the Congress MLA produced official documents to show that the CMRL was allowed to remove sand from Thottappally spillway in the guise of preventing floods at the behest of the Chief Minister. He said the sand that was given to CMRL at throwaway rates was rich in ilmenite. After this, Kuzhalnadan said that the CMRL profits soared. 

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