Kochi: The Kerala government’s draft land policy released late last week, seeking to protect land and put it to productive use, has come in for sharp criticism from the plantation sector.
The draft policy does not allow conversion of plantations or their sale in fragments. Neither does it allow plantations to divert 5% of their estate for other activities, a proposal mooted by the former government, according to Kerala revenue minister K.P. Rajendran.
In 2004, the then Congress party-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government had brought about changes in the Land Reform Act to allow plantations to use 5% of their land for tourism purposes.
Tapping plantations: Workers at a coffee plantation in Vythiri, Kerala. Upasi tea committee chairperson Peter Mathais says coffee plantations in neighbouring Karnataka are promoting tourism in a big way.
However, the amendment did not receive the approval of the state governor or the President. Recently, the Union government has also sought clarifications after the state government categorically stated it would not allow such diversification.
J.K. Thomas, former president of the growers body United Planters’ Association of Southern India (Upasi) said it was ridiculous on the part of the government not to permit such activity. It is the duty of all plantation managements to maximize utilization of assets, he said. A portion of the existing assets could be utilized to generate more revenue and employment through tourism-related projects, such as farm tourism, adventure tourism and trekking, he added.
In addition, the planting of herbs could meet the needs of the pharma and nutraceutical industries, Thomas said.
Criticizing the new policy, Thomas said the government’s initiative would not create new jobs or help the plantation sector grow, and to further his argument, gave the example of Karnataka and Assam, where he said the plantation sector is also promoting tourism.
Peter Mathais, chairperson of the Upasi tea committee and leading coffee and tea grower in Chikmagalur in Karnataka, said coffee plantations in Karnataka are promoting tourism in a big way, and this is not just generating employment in a big way, it is also adding to the revenues of the state coffer.
Angry with the about turn in policy, David B. King, chairperson of the Association of Planters of Kerala (APK), said very recently, state tourism department officials had said steps would be taken to promote new projects in the plantation sector. Hence, the association proposes to oppose the draft policy, which is soliciting public comment. APK will soon be meeting government officials and make representations, King added.
P.K. Gurudasan, Kerala labour minister, who was in Kochi at the launch of the Special Purpose Tea Fund (SPTF) for replantation and rejuvenation of tea estates on Saturday, said the government was firm on not allowing plantations to move out of their core activities.
Revenue minister Rajendran said some sections of the draft policy ban the conversion or filling of paddy fields in paddy protection centres, revises lease rents and other land taxes, protects geologically, archaeologically and environmentally-sensitive areas, fixes a ‘fair’ value of land and revises them periodically, besides providing facility of viewing all land-related documents on government websites.
The government will form a land bank database, which would include leased property, surplus land held by people, and land acquired by the government. Such land, especially in urban areas, would be put to revenue-generating use. The draft policy proposes to declare rivers and water resources in the state protected areas.
There will also be a ‘wetland information system’ and a ‘wetland management system,’ which would seek to protect and productively use rivers, lakes, mangroves, ponds, pools, and other water resources.
An institute for land and disaster management will be set up to create awareness on sustainable use of land with the help of the Centre for Earth Sciences Studies (CESS). While title deeds would be given to settlers in forest lands prior to 1977, the policy looks to provide land and a small house to all families. If that is achieved, it would make Kerala a state with no homeless people.
Rajendran added the policy would prevent land misuse and the draft would be publicly debated, and tabled in the next assembly session.