Kochi: In an attempt to resolve a two-year-old agitation by 7,000 tribal and other landless people, the Kerala government has invited leaders of the protest for talks on Monday and may announce a special rehabilitation package for them, said A.K. Balan, minister for the welfare of backward and scheduled communities.
In August 2007, the protesters, under the banner of the Sadhu Jana Vimochana Samyukta Vedi (SJVSV), a movement demanding land for the landless poor, encroached the Kumbazha rubber estate of Harrisons Malayalam Ltd (HML) in central Kerala. They pitched tents and have been living there for the past two years.
Harrisons Malayalam is part of the R.P. Goenka group.
Balan said the state has now formulated a rehabilitation package for these landless poor after involving opposition leader in the state assembly Oommen Chandy and revenue minister K.P. Rajendran.
He declined to disclose the details of the package but said it would be separate from a Rs5,000 crore scheme announced last year by the Kerala government for giving land and houses to nearly 133,000 tribal families in the state. Under that package, a tribal family would get 3-10 cents (0.03-0.1 acres) of cultivable land.
Officials involved in drawing up the new package have suggested a 25-cent ceiling per family.
“This will be a package not just for housing but also providing land for agriculture,” Balan said, but would not comment on the proposed ceiling. “Details of the package and necessary changes to be made will evolve at Monday’s meeting.”
The minister added that the 2,581.06 acres the agitators had encroached on was plantation land and the government would identify other areas for them to settle.
But the state government has limited land and would have to consider buying land to rehabilitate the landless tribals, Balan said.
V. Venugopal, chief manager (law affairs) of Harrisons Malayalam, said the plantation land was handed over to the R.P. Goenka group in 1918 by the Vanchipuzha Madhom royal family.
The rights are fully vested with the group, he said, contrary to the claim of the tribals that the lease period for the land ended in 2009. The Kerala high court had in August 2007 asked the government to evict the agitators, he added.
Revenue minister Rajendran said his department has initiated a survey of the encroachers on the Harrisons Malayalam land to identify those who are truly landless. The government will distribute land to them under its new package based on this survey, he said.
L. Gopalan, president of the SJVSV, welcomed the government’s decision to hold talks to end the agitation. “It is an agitation to ensure the right of the tribals to cultivate in the land which originally was theirs,” he explained. “The government can consider giving on lease one acre per family and in case the land is not cultivated, it can be taken back.”