Kerala plantation caught in CPM-tribals crossfire

Kerala plantation caught in CPM-tribals crossfire

Kochi: The Communist Party of India (Marxist) cadre took control of the eucalyptus estate of public sector Hindustan Newsprint Ltd at Chinnakanal in Idukki district in Kerala after tribespeople attempted to forcibly enter the estate early last week, agitating for land.

Pre-empting the tribespeople from going ahead with their plan of assigning land to themselves for farming, the ruling party in the southern state has hoisted its flags in the estate, claiming that there were people with “vested interests" behind the Adivasis.

The CPM also claims that their move is meant to pressurize the government to assign land promised to the tribespeople in 2002.

This is the second instance in the recent past where plantations have become the target for agitators. In September, a group of landless farmers had entered a rubber estate of the RPG group’s Harrisons Malayalam Ltd, demanding allotment of land.

Although the court had directed the government to evict the encroachers, the government has not done much to tackle the “sensitive" issue, critics following the development said.

In 2001, tribespeople in Kerala had led a struggle under the banner of the Adivasi Gotra Mahasabha and forced the government to agree to provide 5 acres of cultivable land to 45,000 landless Adivasi families. However, the government is yet to deliver on its commitment.

More than 100 tribespeople had entered the Hindustan Newsprint estate, demanding that the government must assign to them the land promised under the rehabilitation programme. The CPM cadre threw them out, but the agitators have threatened to come back to begin farming operations anytime this week.

The government is firm in its resolve to clear the place but the Left party is defending its move, saying the reasonbehind encroaching the estate is to put pressure on the administration.

State revenue minister K.P. Rajendran has issued orders to the Idukki collector to oust the encroachers. “The encroachers will be removed, irrespective of their party affiliations," Rajendran said. “Steps will be taken to survey lands and assign them to the Adivasis."

M.M. Mani, CPM Idukki district secretary, said, “By taking control of the area, the party will put pressure on the government to ensure that the landless Adivasis get their promised share of land."

Caught in the crossfire is Hindustan Newsprint. According to deputy general manager Cherian Thomas, the estate was leased to the company in 1992 to grow eucalyptus trees for its factory at Piravom in Kottayam district in Kerala.

The lease is scheduled to expire in 2020.