Kerala court allows law violation

Permits use of paddy field unfit for cultivation for other purposes

By M Suchitra
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

imageIN A judgement that could seriously affect conservation of paddy land and wetland, the Kerala High Court has allowed the common people to violate an Act that some influential people freely violate.

The court’s division bench observed that people with muscle and money power, and political or official patronage use paddy fields for other purposes. It directed that the less influential owners of fields unfit for cultivation should also be allowed to put their land to other uses.

The bench was hearing an appeal by Jafarkhan K, a resident of Vengola panchayat in Ernakulam district, who challenged a single judge bench verdict in a case related to reclamation of paddy fields.

The legal battle started last year when the panchayat moved court saying that Jafarkhan had used 5.1 hectare (ha) of his paddy field for expanding his saw mill. This was a violation of The Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act, 2008, the panchayat said. The single judge bench directed the district collector to enforce the law and restore the land.

But the land was neither a paddy field nor a wetland, the division bench said in its judgement on January 18, 2012. The single bench had not considered the true nature of the land while giving the verdict, it said. Paddy land and wetland unfit for cultivation on account of conversion of adjoining paddy land should be allowed to be used for other purposes, it added.

“This judgement will have a very serious impact on conservation of paddy fields and wetland in Kerala,” says C R Neelakandan, environmental activist in Ernakulam. The verdict should have been confined to the particular case in consideration, he says.

“When the court extends its judgment to the entire state, it should have heard what farmers, activists or at least the government have to say about reclamation of paddy fields and wetland,” says V Harish, environmental and human rights activist.

The legislation

The Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act was enacted in 2008 after much hue and cry over acute food crisis and people’s struggles against large-scale filling up of paddy fields. It was enforced despite stiff resistance from the real estate lobby.

Rice is the staple food of the state, but the area under rice cultivation has been dwindling for the past three decades. A spurt in real estate business in the past few years has accelerated the trend. According to the State Planning Board, Kerala lost over 500,000 ha of land under paddy cultivation between 1980 and 2007.

The deficit in supply, which was about 50 per cent in the 1960s, increased to more than 75 per cent in the 1990s and to an alarming 85 per cent in 2007-2008, reveals data accessed from the directorate of Economics and Statistics.

Kerala requires 3.9 million tonnes of rice at present, says Leena Kumari, director of the State Paddy Mission. The production, however, is a mere 625,000 tonnes—less than a sixth of its total food grain requirement. “Large-scale filling up of paddy fields badly affected the state’s food security, groundwater availability and ecological sustainability,” says Neelakandan.

In 2010, Kerala initiated Ellarum Paadathekk, a project to increase rice production. Under this programme, in the first year, 12,000 ha of fallow land was made cultivable. In the second year, it increased to 20,000 ha.

However, reclamation of paddy fields continues unabated, say activists. In many cases, the government itself has violated the law. In one case, a single bench of the high court observed on February 21 that the paddy land and wetland conservation legislation is largely used in Kerala to reclaim fields rather than conserve or protect them.

The activists say the state government has not yet prepared a data bank of the notified paddy fields as the Act requires. Consequently, about a dozen cases challenging land reclamation are dismissed by the court every day.

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  • Paddy production in kerala is

    Paddy production in kerala is declining steadily over the years due to a variety of factors which includes fragmentation of land holding,improved literacy,non availability of manpower,and the malayali reluctance for doing manual kerala is a paradise for labourers from other states especially north eastern states,here they earn three to four times what they earn in their home states,and the anomaly is that a mallu is prepared to toil it out in the gulf,and not in his home.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • What is the reason Keralaites

    What is the reason Keralaites goes to Gulf or other countries? and why the rice cultivation keep on reducing in Kerala.? What are the incentives Government or industry provides to the people (don't look it from a farmer' perspective, majority of them are either exploited or uneducated to understand and reap the benefits of policies and benefits, or such things are hidden from them conveniently) who would like to invest in agriculture in Kerala? What would have been the state of Kerala, if all of them was confined to Kerala itself for their living?
    What is the root cause?, is it about Rice Cultivation or people growing abroad...? or is it something much bigger, which we are missing or intentionally avoiding?

    Love to have your responses...for a constructive debate..


    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • paddy cultivation is no

    paddy cultivation is no longer a profitable exercise thanks to the communist party led trade unionism in the state. The labourers demand sky high wages. The Communist party has no right to speak about decline in paddy cultivation

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Generation of people who knew

    Generation of people who knew and did the cultivation (except cash crops) are all long gone (left the jobs). Now those who have land don't have people to work on land and those who know the job have seats in Agriculture Department who wear white collars. Not enough people to work on the land is a crisis and needs to be acknowledged. Land is a scarce thing in a densely poplulated state like Kerala and should be used for Any Peaceful Purpose. All Enviornmental and NO place to live is an IRONY! Shaapam ee janmam! Theruvinte makkal is not far away...

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • The Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act was enacted in 2008 is clear invasion Article 14 of the constitution when reading the same with Kerala Land Reforms Act of 1963. Section 81 of the Act exempts certain types of land ie. Private Forrest, Plantations, Cashew estates, Industrial Land etc to keeping its utilisation, But Paddy Land wet land not being excluded from the provisions of the Land Reforms Act. Hence land ceiling imposed by this act is applicable on wetland and paddy land. When Government is imposing land utilisation control similar to the type of lands exempted U/S 81 over the land occupied within the ceiling limit prescribed U/S 82 is mere discrimination which is infringement of Article 14.

    Posted by: Shajprashanth K. A. | 2 years ago | Reply