A high-level government committee in Kerala has recommended recovery of excess land that it says is in the possession of leading rubber producer and tea cultivator Harrisons Malayalam Ltd (HML).
Officials said the decision is in line with the state government’s proposal to treat plantations as ecologically fragile forest land. It had earlier recovered parts of encroached forest land from Kanan Devan Hills Produce Co., which is jointly owned by Tata Tea Ltd and its workers at Munnar.
In its report earlier this month, the government panel said HML is in possession of 76,769.8 acres of land.
This includes surplus land such as playgrounds, labour quarters, roads, buildings and places of worship, which are outside the purview of plantations and their ancillaries.
The committee, headed by principal revenue secretary Nivedita P. Haran, also said that HML had sold 12,658 acres in violation of the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963.
But HML has rejected the state panel’s report and denied any wrongdoing. The company said its holding was only 59,623.5 acres and 15,000 acres of this was under the custody of the state forest department, under the Kerala Private Forest Act of 1971.
The company also said that it had sold only 6,834 acres and not 12,658 acres as claimed in the report.
The government now plans to order a survey of the HML estate that is spread over six districts in Kerala. It will revoke the surplus land not coming under the purview of plantations and their ancillaries, said state revenue minister K.P. Rajendran.
HML has welcomed the move to conduct a fresh survey of the estate, but said it’s got a raw deal as it never got an opportunity to present its case before the panel.
“The report of the committee has not been made available to us and we were not invited to give our version,” said V. Venugopal, law affairs chief manager of HML. “Things were determined unilaterally, excluding us,” he added.