Kerala govt puts on hold proposal to set up 364-hectare Chinnakanal Reserve in Idukki

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Idukki: The proposed Chinnakanal Reserve spread over 364.89 hectares, for which the Forest Department had initiated procedures as per the Forest (Conservation) Act, has been put on hold by the state government after protests.

According to a communique from the office of Minister for Forests, A K Saseendran, on Monday evening, a meeting headed by the chief secretary on the same day reviewed all the matters related to setting up of the Reserve.

It was pointed out in the meeting that according to the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act 2023 passed by the parliament in August, forest land used for other purposes before December 1996 would not come within the purview of the Act. Any of the forest land in the Chinnakanal region that comes under this criterion could thus get the protection as per the Amendment.

The communique said that the Supreme Court has directed the central government to come up with guidelines in connection with the Amendment.

It further said that in light of this, no further procedures need to be taken on the earlier communication which was said to have been sent to the Idukki Collector to initiate proceedings for declaring the 364.89 hectares of revenue land as a reserve forest.

“If union government comes up with a guideline, a settlement officer will be posted to solve all issues (that may arise),” the release said.

Proposal would remain only on paper: M M Mani
Earlier on Monday, speaking at a protest meeting organised by the ‘Chinnakanal Bhoo Samrakshana Samithi’ Udumbanchola MLA and former power minister M M Mani said the forest department’s proposal for the Chinnakanal Reserve would remain on paper and would not be accepted at any cost. A march was taken out to the Chinnakanal Forest Office.

M M Mani speaks at the protest held in front of Chinnakanal forest station in Idukki on Monday. Photo: Special arrangement

“If forest officials come to Chinnakanal, they will face difficulties. What will be those difficulties…I wish not to tell now. The Chinnakanal residents will decide whether the officials can set foot here. Those residing here will remain here and if there is any attempt to evict them, then there will be a law and order issue,” Mani said during the inauguration of the protest.

Devikulam MLA A Raja, Chinnakanal Panchayat president M N Sreekumar, Santhanpara Panchyat member Liju Varghese and several CPM functionaries participated in the protest.

Meanwhile, KPCC member and senior congress leader AK Mani participated in the march. The other Congress leaders in the district took exception to this and said the CPM protest against the LDF government was only intended to hoodwink the residents of Chinnakanal.

The Forest officials Onmanaorama spoke to said of 364.89 hectares, 298.28 hectares were earlier leased out in 1990, for 20 years, to Hindustan News Print Limited (HNL) to plant eucalyptus trees. After the lease period expired, the Forest Department took it back. Before the lease, the land was conserved by the Forest Department, though on records it was revenue land.

“Both the revenue and forest departments have been staking claim for the land. But when the lease ended, the department issued orders and HNL approached the forest department with a sketch of the leased land to hand it over. The matters related to the encroachment in the HNL and other stretches of land mentioned in the proposal were dealt with by the Forest Department,” a forest official in the Chinnakanal range said.

He said a gazette notification was issued by the state government in September for setting up the Chinnakanal Reserve. The procedure to make a final declaration takes place as per sections 4 to 19 of the Forest (Conservation) Act. The people who have grievances can officially take up the matter with the settlement officer as notifications in this regard would be issued.

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