Palakkad: The Nelliampathy hills spread over 82 square km of the Chittur taluk and 1,500 m above sea-level have become a political hot potato for the UDF with the intervention of Rahul Gandhi. The genesis of the present political crises was the termination of the lease agreement of the 250 acre Cherunelli estate by the Forest Department and the Government Chief Whip P C George of the Kerala Congress (M) taking up the cudgels on behalf of the estate owners. The Forest department on June 8, 2012 issued orders for the termination of lease and resumption of the Cherunelli estate through a GO (MS) No.64/2012/Fand WLD. The lessees who immediately approached the court have obtained a stay on the order.
The Law Department is yet to file a counter affidavit on the vacation of the stay. The 250 acres of forest land was leased out by the erstwhile Cochin Government to W Smith as per the lease deed dated September 26, 1867. The order says that as is evident from the deed the said land was Cochin Government’s forestland. Since the Cherunelli estate has committed serious violations on the lease agreement under the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, Kerala Grants and Leases Act , 1980 and Kerala Forest Act,1961, the lease was being terminated.
Earlier, when the Cherunelli estate was taken over in November 2011, the lessees went to the court, stating that the order of termination of lease was issued without putting the petitioners on notice. The court ordered the restoration of possession of properties including smokehouse and bungalows. Subsequently, show-cause notices were issued and the 45 occupants were heard by the Principal secretary, Forest Department, on January 31, 2012. It was after the hearing that the new orders were issued on June 8, 2012.
The hills spread over 82 square km in the Chittur taluk have become a political hot potato for the ruling combine.
In reply to the show-cause notices of the department, the present occupants raised the following points. The contention of Devasia Kurien and 12 others holding 116.29 acres were:
1) The Shernelly estate was part of the an extent of 296 acres of the Cherunelli estate. The lease was perpetual in nature and the rights were “assignable” and the lessee has unrestricted rights to assign the properties.
2) The transfer of rights was recognised by the Revenue as well as the Forest authorities and they were remitting “quit rent” and not “lease rent”.
3) The area in question is not a forest land, but a coffee plantation as stated by the notification of May 8,1909 and presently it is a rubber plantation registered with the Rubber Board.
4) The assignment in question was within the terms of the lease deed executed by the Dewan of Cochin. The provisions of the Forest Department do not apply to this land.
5) No sanction had been required from the Central Government since the notification of the Cochin Government of 1909 itself had said that Cherunelli was a coffee estate.
6) The allegation that cultivation of rubber in the land was against the provisions of the letter from the Ministry of Environment and Forests is without considering the nature of rights they enjoy under the lease deed.
The contentions of Paulose and four others holding 34 acres, Sudhakaran and three others holding 20.43 acres, M K Nabeel and four others holding 91.90 acres and K K Abraham and 14 others holding 70.44 acres were also the same.