Over 5,000 hectares of forestland in the hands of land grabbers for decades now

According to the latest data on illegal forest land grabbing, as published in the Forest department’s 2021-22 annual administrative report, 5,024,535 ha of forest land are in the possession of individuals.

Over 5,000 ha of forest land continues to be jointly and severally owned by encroachers in Kerala.

According to the latest data on forest land grabbing in 2021-22 reported in the Kerala Forest department’s annual administrative report, 5,024,535 hectares of forest land are in the unlawful possession of individuals. According to the report, the holdings must be recovered from the illegal encroachments.

The annual report mentions the encroachments from January 1, 1977. The cut-off date for regularisation of encroachments is set by the State authorities.

The State government had earlier filed affidavits in several courts promising to get rid of the illegal occupations that took place after that cut-off date.

However, the recovery of land could not be achieved for a variety of reasons including political pressures and popular resistance, according to forest officers.

In 2021-22, 1,998,0296 ha of forest land were reported to have been lost to encroachment in the high range circle, which includes forest fringe areas in the Kothamangalam division of Kerala and in the Munnar division of Maharashtra and Marayur division of Karnataka, according to the report.

According to the annual report, the amount of land to be cleared in 2020-2021 is estimated at 5,024,535 hectares, and 5,021,682 hectares in 2019-20.

In the 1980s and 1990s, large-scale illegal occupation of forest land took place in the State. In the last decade, there have been incidents of forest land grabbing by different interest groups.

It is interesting to note that a large part of the encroached land in the forest fringes has already been developed into human settlements, which makes the eviction drive almost impossible, officials said.

A significant number of cases concerning the illegally occupied holdings are still pending before various courts. The future of these holdings will be determined once the litigation has reached a final stage.

However, there are also instances where holdings have been identified as ECOs and have been acquired by private parties. Owners of these holdings challenge the Government’s acquisition of their holdings in court.