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Oommen panel suggestion to repeal EFL Act sparks row Oommen panel suggestion to repeal EFL Act sparks row

Jan-06-2014 | 0 Comments


THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A row has erupted over the report submitted by the expert panel constituted by the state government to review the Kasturirangan panel report on Western Ghats, as sections of the greens and political leaders have opposed its key recommendation to expunge the Environmentally Fragile Land (EFL) Act or to do away with EFL area.

"Many farmers and inhabitants of areas lying close to forest regions have been thrown out of their land by enforcing the EFL Act and to prevent that, the committee has sought to remove the Act," expert panel head and Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB) chairman Oommen V Oommen told TOI on Saturday.

"The EFL Act is a decade old; it has served its purpose and is being misused now. It is used as a double-edged sword by some revenue and forest officials to force farmers and people out of their land by declaring it as EFL area without paying any compensation to the displaced", he said.

Biodiversity, including forests, has to be protected and for that, instead of imposing draconian rules on the people, they should be given the freedom to conserve the environment, he said. "It is only a recommendation to remove EFL in the interest of the farmers while protecting biodiversity and a decision on that can be taken by the government, he said.

Challenging the recommendation for removal of EFL, the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) member V S Vijayan told TOI that expunging EFL will lead to a loss of 34,000 acres of land with vegetative cover adjoining forests as they are occupied by private agencies, unwilling to give back the land even though the lease period has expired.

"If revenue or forest officials are misusing EFL Act against farmers, action should be taken against such corrupt officials. Repealing the act on the pretext of saving farmers will only facilitate large landholders to continue grabbing land even after the lease term ended. Small farmers are not affected by EFL rules," he said.

"There are cases in courts against private agencies that have usurped vegetative land or plantations close to forest land. Now if the EFL Act is repealed, then they will go scot-free," he said.

Expert panel members clarified that they have not sought to withdraw any existing case in court relating to land disputes. Earlier, the greens and members of Sastra Sahithya Parishad had called the EFL Act insane and had said that it was being misused by corrupt officials and now they are raking up a controversy, expert panel members said.

CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan repeated his party's argument that conservation of Western Ghats was not possible without addressing the concerns of the locals. "Protection of Western Ghats is indisputabl, bute, but conservation overlooking the concerns of the people is not practical

instead of opting for a democratic approach by involving the people's representatives, farmers and experts, hanging on to the Kasturirangan and Gadgil reports is a stance that sidelines the aspirations of the people", he noted in a Facebook post on Saturday.

Congress MLA V D Satheesan criticized the report as one latched in a conspiracy to support vested elements. He said repealing the EFL Act will affect Kerala's biodiversity and forest cover.

MLA T N Prathapan made a scathing remark stating the report was indifferent to the state legislative assembly.

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