Leniency to coffee growers may earn govt court's ire

Leniency to coffee growers may earn govt court's ire

Don't evict those encroaching up to 10 acres of forest land, DCs told

Leniency to coffee growers may earn govt court's ire

It appears that the lawmakers in the State are sending a wrong signal to encroachers of government land, while the bureaucrats are trying to retrieve such land, including in the forests, across the State. 

At a coffee board programme in Bangalore on October 20, Home Minister K J George had said the chief minister has directed the deputy commissioners not to evict coffee growers who have encroached on up to 10 acres in the Western Ghats. 

He did not stop at that. He said the government was not in a position to issue an order in writing to this effect because the court would take exception to it. Officials in the forest department said that as per the court direction, the government is submitting a comprehensive monthly compliance report indicating the extent of retrieved public land.

 This mainly includes taking back possession of reserved and protected forest land. The government is running behind the deadline set by the court to retrieve the lost land and to submit an action plan. At least by December-end, the government must be in a position to reclaim all types of government land which have been encroached upon, sources said. 

At this juncture, George’s assurance to coffee growers that they would be spared for the illegality they have committed may amount to breach of the court direction, officers, who did not like to be named, said.

The government took up a drive to reclaim the encroached public land after the Supreme Court upheld the High Court direction in this regard. Non-compliance of the court diktat leads to contempt of court.

Environmentalist and former IFS officer Yellappa Reddy said that if the government decides to be lenient towards coffee growers, how can it evict others. “What sort of justice is the government trying to do? There can’t be injustice and inequality in pardoning the encroachers. If a poor farmer is spared, it is acceptable, but not coffee growers who have encroached upon forest land. Coffee growers are one of the biggest encroachers of forests in the Malnad region,” he said.

Sources in the forest department said the deputy commissioners, officials of the revenue and forest departments were all working together to get the encroachers evicted. Police protection is also taken during the drive.

A public land corporation has been created to be the custodian of retrieved land. As there is strong opposition to reclaim land from encroachers,  police protection is essential. The action of land reclaim is videographed.

According to Forest Minister Ramanath Rai, around 2,04,442.16 acres of forest land in the State have been encroached upon. Of these, 1,10,626 cases pertain to reserved and protected forest lands. 

Those who own a couple of acres of bagair hukum land in forests are being spared from eviction under the Land Grant Act. If the government fails to reclaim the lost public land, then court commissioners may begin monitoring the eviction work, official sources said.

Legislators hailing from the Malnad region are stiffly opposing the eviction of encroachers because scores of people are cultivating agricultural land and also residing in deemed forest areas. But, Minister Rai is under tremendous pressure to implement the court direction.

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