K A Shaji /Munnar and Thiruvananthapuram
Who was the late PK Vasudevan Nair? To any observer of Indian politics, he was political idealism personified. Known for a simple lifestyle and transparency in public life, this top CPI leader had renounced the post of Kerala Chief Minister in the late 70s to cement the emerging CPI-CPM unity at the national level. Nair, who always kept himself away from power politics, was forced by the CPI to contest the Lok Sabha election in 2004 and was made the party’s parliamentary leader thereafter. Unfortunately, he had an unexpected demise just a few months after the formation of the present Lok Sabha.
You would get a different version of Nair’s life, though, in Munnar, the tourism hotspot in the news for a massive anti-encroachment drive launched against industrial groups like Tata, former bureaucrats, leading lawyers, local land mafia and several political parties. As per documents at Munnar’s village office, Nair was a farmer who had been cultivating 14 cents of land since 1959. Nair was registered as a farmer by one K. Balakrishna Pillai, the then special village officer of Munnar. But it now seems that Pillai had acted on the directions of the CPI rather than of Nair.
According to sources in the Special Task Force that is currently engaged in demolishing encroachments, the CPI had submitted an application with an apparently forged signature of Nair at the Munnar village office in 1998 seeking patta (land deed) for the 14 cents of occupied land with survey number 62/10c in the then Kannan Devan village. The property was in fact not the private agricultural land of Nair. Instead, the land was used for constructing a five-storey building that eventually turned into the party office-cum-holiday home.
In 1998, the CPI was in power in Kerala along with other Left parties and its nominee KE Ismail was the revenue minister. According to top sources in the government, it was Ismail who directed the then village officer to prepare a report supporting the party’s claim for the patta. The patta was granted within a few weeks accepting the claim that Nair was a poor farmer who had been cultivating there for decades. Sources in both the revenue department and the CPI’s local unit concede that Nair was not aware of his party’s own land scam. A vigilance team of Kerala Police, which is probing the recent land scams in Munnar, has also expressed doubts about the originality of Nair’s signature on the application for the patta.
The underhand way in which the CPI obtained land in a prime area in Munnar to construct a multi-storey holiday resort was unearthed only recently when the Special Officer for Eviction, K. Suresh Kumar, verified the documents. The party and its trade union are in fact using only a minor portion in the basement area. The rest has been leased out to a private tourism promoter and is run as a resort from which the party is getting about Rs 45,000 per month as rent.
Until recently, a concrete bridge used to connect the building to the national highway to help tourists reach the resort.
Soon after taking charge in Munnar, Suresh Kumar found the bridge to be encroaching on government land and ordered its demolition. The CPI termed the destruction of the bridge an attack on the party building and began baying for the blood of Suresh Kumar, an officer seen as close to Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan. The CPI has found support from the Pinarayi Vijayan faction in the CPM.
The controversial building is also located on the banks of the Kunnathu Palar river. There is already a directive from the Supreme Court to remove all illegal construction close to the riverbed in Munnar. However, the CPI is unmindful of the criticism. Its state secretary Veliyam Bhargavan told Tehelka that seven cents of the building’s land was purchased out of the party fund in 1959 in the name of Vasudevan Nair, and in 1998 the party had applied for patta of only four cents of land. Of the application said to be written by Nair seeking patta for14 cents of agricultural land, Veliyam called it the handiwork of an anti-CPI lobby working in the state. “The application may be a creation of that lobby to defame our leaders,” he said. But the CPI’s claim of being targeted has little merit. The CPM and the intuc are also facing action for having holiday resorts in their buildings built on encroached land.
``I’ll not continue as special officer if I am stopped from demolishing the illegally constructed party offices of the CPM and the CPI in Munnar,” Suresh Kumar told Tehelka. “The building constructed on the plot that the CPI claims as its own is an illegal construction. The resorts functioning atop the CPM and the CPI party offices are built on farmland and are illegal.”
The issue has hurt the CPI’s image in Kerala.
The issue has hurt the CPI’s image in Kerala.
The party’s alleged closeness to Tata Tea, which illegally occupies about 50,000 acres of government land in Munnar, has evoked widespread condemnation from political, environmental and social activists. While Achuthanandan is waiting for a report from a Hyderabad-based agency that is conducting a satellite survey to assess the extent of encroachment by Tata Tea, Forest Minister Binoy Viswam, who belongs to the CPI, has already issued a notice to the Tata group to furnish reasons for illegally occupying 3,000 acres of land, a figure seen as too small by Achuthanandan’s supporters.
The Revenue Minister and CPI’s state assistant secretary KE Ismail blamed a “media syndicate” in Thiruvananthapuram for the problems plaguing the party. However, a strong section within the CPI believes Ismail to be the one responsible. The last state executive meeting of the CPI witnessed angry outbursts against Ismail and his supporters. A section also wanted the party itself to demolish the building to move out of the embarrassing