Kochi: On Wednesday, 228 days after more than 3,000 people pitched tents in Harrisons Malayalam Ltd’s (HML) Kumbazha rubber estate in Kerala demanding distribution of the land to them, the state government is to hold talks with the agitators to try and convince them to move out—which could either end the seven-month-long struggle or lead to more violence.
On the same day, the Kerala high court will hear a petition by the company seeking the eviction of the agitators.
The agitators, under the banner of Sadhu Jana Vimochana Samyukta Vedi, a non-political forum, had entered and pitched tents in the estate located in Pathanamthitta district last August, saying the government was not keeping its promise to allot land to the landless. They claimed that Harrisons Malayalam’s lease on the plantation had expired.
The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist, sees the agitation illegal, but emphasized that the government is going ahead with its programme to allot land to the landless in the state.
LDF convener Vaikom Viswan said, “The struggle in the HML estate is to be seen as an encroachment and the talks with the agitators will help expose them. The government will do all it can to evict the people from the estate, though it will do all it can to allot land to the landless.”
The Congress party-led opposition United Democratic Front has lent its support to the agitators. Caught in the middle is Harrisons Malayalam, an RPG Enterprises firm. V. Venugopal. HML’s chief manager, law affairs, said since the struggle began, workers have not been able to enter the estate to tap the rubber trees, resulting in a huge loss.
“There is little truth in the claim of the agitators that the lease period for the estate had ended. The land was handed over to the company in 1918 by the Vanchipuzha Madhom family, which had got it from the ruler of Travancore. Later, with the Kerala Land Reforms Act, right on the land was vested with the tenants. The question of expiry of the lease does not rise,” he said.
Tribals in Kerala had grouped under the Adivasi Gotra Mahasabha, and gone on a month-and-a-half-long protest in 2001. The government was forced to consider their demand that the 45,000 landless tribal families in the state be provided with five acres each of cultivable land.
The demand was met only partially, leading to more agitations in the state. The protest in the HML estate is a manifestation of that.