Thiruvananthapuram: The government's move to redraw the boundaries of the Neelakurinji reserve has given rise to a political storm with environmental activists and others up in arms against the decision.
Revenue minister E Chandrasekharan, who has been vociferous about his resurvey demands, did not reject the decision taken during a meeting which was attended by him.
His responses later, though, did not mask his apprehensions about the concerted move by the chief minister and the CPM to rally revenue department additional secretary P H Kurien against him.
One reserve, many vested interests
Most parts of the proposed kurinji reserve are in the villages of Vattavada and Kottakamboor in Idukki district.
Member of Parliament Joice George and some CPM leaders reportedly own land in block no. 58 of Kottakamboor village.
In the current situation it is suspected that by the resurvey and redrawing of the boundaries, the CPM is aiming at excluding their land from the reserve.
And by this, they can protect the land of the MP and the CPM leaders.
The allegations have gained strength since the decision to rework the boundaries came soon after the pattayam (title deed) of Joice George's 28-acre land was canceled.
More often than not, the rhetoric around people's rights to land has become a smokescreen to guard the ill-gotten land booty in the picturesque hill station.
The CPM has been careful not to upset its local leaders and ignore 'public interest' when issues regarding environment and encroachment come up.
Power minister MM Mani and MLA S Rajendran are seen as strong proponents of this strategy.
However, the revenue department, under the CPI, has done the opposite, going the extra mile to shield land and laws.
The party has told E Chandrasekharan not to show any leniency to encroachments, especially violations by the rich and influential.
The meeting called by the chief minister when the CPM announced a hartal against the CPI and the revenue department has also given rise to fresh controversies.
While the CPI has emerged a gatekeeper to the land and resources of Munnar, the CPM has donned the dubious garb of a political opportunist.
With the 2019 Lok Sabha elections coming nearer, the CPM's decisions are also weighed on electoral interests.
Sending revenue additional chief secretary P H Kurien, a Pinarayi man, and setting up a ministerial sub-committee that includes MM Mani has been viewed as part of this strategy.
However, what is at stake is the commitment of the party towards issues that concern environment and nature.
The chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan responded to the Munnar crisis saying that the CPM or the government had no intentions to downsize the Neelakurinji reserve.
Reminding that it was the previous LDF government that set up the reserve, he said that other than this, there were no amenities or infrastructure at the reserve and the land has not been surveyed to determine its expanse.
The current move was aimed at correcting these lacunae, he said.
Speaking to the media he also said that the Munnar sub-committee was meant to ensure smooth communication between the people and the administration adding that the media must report the facts and not distort details.
V S cracks the whip
The demand raised by CPM veteran V S Achuthanandan that the encroachments, which are mentioned in the affidavit submitted to the green tribunal, should not be shielded in the guise of safeguarding public interest, is also a challenge to the intentions of the government’s actions.
The chief minister has a tough job in hand. He will have to decide the future course of a ministry where the minister and his secretary are at odds.
For now he has a breather- the CPI has not launched an open attack yet, but that cannot be taken for granted.
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