Thiruvananthapuram: The government, in an apparent bid to wriggle out of the Munnar imbroglio, has decided to convene an all-party meeting to 'seek support' for the
anti-encroachment drive in the hill resort town of Munnar. The government has virtually halted the eviction drive after the it drew ire from a prominent section of the ruling CPM.
Earlier, the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) had also held a meeting here to discuss the issue. The government and chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had slammed the manner in which a cross was removed from an a hillock at Pappathichola near Munnar.
The decision to hold an all-party meeting was taken at a high-level meeting chaired by chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and attended by two ministers on Friday.
Officials had been asked to be wary of encroachers and go soft on settlers. The focus should be on evicting 'big encroachers,' a release said. Steps would be taken to give land to the landless and title deeds to those who had settled before Jan 1, 1977, the official release said.
On May 21, a title deed mela would be held in Idukki.
Revenue minister E. Chandrasekharan, power minister M.M. Mani, Idukki collector G.R. Gokul and subcollector Sriram Venkitaraman were among those who participated in the meeting.
The meeting was held a day after controversy erupted over the removal of the 30-foot tall cross put up allegedly by encroaching government land in Munnar. The cross was removed by revenue authorities. The chief minister had reprimanded the collector and the subcollector for the manner in which the cross was uprooted at Papathichola.
"It was also wrong that officials went for the eviction drive to remove the cross without informing the police and with activists of Land Protection Sena," the release said.
The officials erred in removing the cross without informing the government and using earth-movers for the same at midnight after clamping prohibitory orders, Pinarayi said at the meeting.
"The officials are bound to work for the government. If they fail to do so, they cannot stand as part of the government," he said.
Earlier in the day, the police booked Tom Zachariah, an evangelist of the 'Spirit in Jesus' organization, in connection with the erection of the cross.
Munnar, situated about 1,600 metres above the sea level and dotted with plantations, was once the summer resort of the erstwhile British government in South India and now a favorite destination for tourists.
It has of late become a favoured place of encroachers as well. The earlier LDF government headed by V.S. Achuthanandan had launched the anti-encroachment drive in a big way. Meanwhile, the Syro Malabar Church supported the anti-eviction drive saying it was against all encroachments, but said the manner of removal of the cross was a 'bit rough.'
Major archbishop Cardinal Mar George Alencherry said erecting a cross encroaching forest land cannot be justified. The BJP slammed Pinarayi for expressing 'displeasure' at the removal of the cross from encroached land. BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan said the controversy over the removal of the cross was 'unfortunate.
He wondered why Pinarayi was now taking a 'soft stand' over removal of the cross as he had earlier denounced the move by a Sunni sect to build a mosque to showcase the Prophet's holy relic.