Kerala – Land without a Land Policy

21st January, 2016

Kerala is a state, where everything looks good on paper and the screaming flex boards, that claim the fast, furious, far-reaching changes effected by Government after Government. The impact and benefit on the ground, especially on resource use and management is a special cause for worry, since a quick data and ground check will show a very bleak picture.

A much discussed Land Policy is in the draft state for nearly 7 years now !. Submitted in 2009, the draft, a critically acclaimed policy document, that covers most aspects of the land use policy and strategies needed to effect a proper planning, use, management and conservation of land and its related resources, has not even been put up for discussion in public fora.

Kerala's food producing lands, the paddy and wetlands, was the only cultural land that had a  Land Utilisation Order and later a Kerala Paddy and Wetland Conservation Act, 2008 to protect it from unauthorised and rampant reclamation and destruction. The implementation of the Act is in a pathetic state today. The Data Bank, to be prepared on the basis of ground check as well as satellite imagery, is no where near completion, even after 7 years, thanks to a total lack of support for the same from any of the concerned Ministries and Departments. The result – continuing destruction of the paddy and wetlands. Today, we have just above 2 lakh ha of cultivated paddy lands ( considering two-crops taken), and that too diminishing every year. This is down from nearly 9 lakh ha in the 1970's, bringing down our total in-house food security to about 12% of our requirement. Is this not a dangerous situation ? Is this not a Land Use Planning and management failure ? Who is responsible ?

Kerala is land locked in between the rich and resourceful Lakshwadeep Sea and the Worlds one of the most revered heritage – the Western Ghats. And in between these are India's most productive and hence most populated lands. Even within this small stretch of cultural land are the extended spur hills, small mountains, mid-land hill, 44 rivers ( 41 flowing into this region ), wetlands and backwaters stretched almost fully across the state, and a full length coast, with beaches. Every single facet of our natural resource is a wonder, a local identity, a gift of nature and highly resourceful. It is all ruthlessly being exploited, destroyed and demolished in the name of a development, thats actually not delivering any economic worth for the state as a whole, where mafia, in various garbs call the shots. A few examples would suffice.

The mid-land hills and the small mountains, a part of the cultural spaces and history of almost all the districts in the State, are being ruthlessly mined for stones and granites, and in many places even for mud and small rocks. Whats the system of regulation? Simple – one identifies a hill to mine, buys it or leases it, walks into the Department of Geology, pays the required fees and bribes and you get the permits ! And so today we have supposedly 4000 quarries functioning in the State, 2000 of them illegally !! To the extent that around every hill being pulled down for rubble, a people's struggle to protect the hill, a set of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, a mafia buying and threatening people living around it, and huge set of environmental and livelihood issues can be seen. Even District Collectors and Revenue Officers, who choose to act on these issues have been ruthlessly threatened and even made to run from post to post, punished for their promptness. The situation is that bad that we have the High Courts and even the National Green Tribunal come down heavily on the State, and still the State is continuing to facilitate the destruction of these hills. Hills once gone is gone for ever, permanently destroying the landscape, the culture, the biodiversity, the water bodies, the food security and even the mineral resources for ever. And whats the regulation mechanism ? Nothing !! Inspite of a quarrying history of more than half a century, we do not regulate mining, in any effective manner. 


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