Tatas in dock over ‘encroachment’ of Munnar land


Thiruvananthapuram : The Kerala government has decided to serve a show case notice to the Tata Group for alleged possession of 3,113 acres of excess land in the tea-growing region of Munnar.

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Forest Minister Binoy Viswam Thursday said his department would serve notice in the next two days for the land in Munnar in Idukki district where the government is cracking down on encroachments.

"In a communication to the government in another context, the Tatas have admitted that they possess 20,012 acres of land to be used for fuel food cultivation when the Kannan Devan Hill Act in 1971 and the Land Board Award of 1974 clearly says that they have been given 16,898.91 acres of land for fuel wood cultivation," Viswam told reporters here.

"There seems to be every reason to believe that they have encroached on government land, if not how can this be explained?" asked Viswam.

This comes days soon after the Kerala High Court May 29 refused to stay a satellite survey ordered by the state government to determine the landholding of Tata Group firms Tata Tea and Kannan Devan Hill Plantations.

The government had in November asked the Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Agency to do an aerial survey of the two companies' properties in Idukki district.

"We expect to get the results of the satellite survey in two weeks. We are quite certain that the Tatas have more land than what they ought to possess and we are a government that is not afraid to deal with any one who breaks the law," said Viswam.

Munnar has a long history dating back to 1877 when J.D. Munroe, a British national, bought it from the Poonjar royal family near Kottayam in a permanent and perpetual grant.

In 1895, it was bought over by a British company, James Finlay & Co, which held it till 1977 when the Kerala assembly under the Kannan Devan Hills Resumption Land Act took over the land under the Land Reforms Act.

After keeping 70,522 acres, the government gave the remaining 57,359.14 acres to Tata Finlay Ltd, which was acquired by Tata Tea in 1983. After visiting Munnar when he was leader of opposition from 2001-06, Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan had said the state government must take back the land over which the companies have no right.