Now, CPM Grabs Land In Kerala

Chinnakanal Communism

CPM cadre ‘liberate’ villages from agitating landless tribals by burning down their shelters. The reason? The tourism lobby wants the land


BUDDHADEB BHATTACHARYA may be a happy man now. The West Bengal chief minister’s Nandigram version of Marxian socialism is gaining ground even in the remote villages of Kerala’s Idukki district, where CPM State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan’s comrades are engaged in a battle to protect the land mafia and the illegitimate interests of tourism entrepreneurs. Facing the assault are poor tribals, who are being kicked out of land they’ve occupied for centuries.
While the CPM’s new-found acquisitiveness vis-à-vis tribal land has been exposed in Chinnakanal and Anayirankal villages, located close to the hill station of Munnar, the party’s neoliberal leaders Pinarayi Vijayan, TM Thomas Issac and MA Baby have unleashed their local hooligans in an all-out bid to capture the Idukki unit. Idukki was until recently a citadel of Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, who had initiated stern measures to evict big land encroachers. But the encroachers proved to be powerful enough to win over both the CPI and the CPM in the area, and Achuthanandan has lost his grip over his stronghold as a result.
A thousand-strong CPM brigade virtually invaded 53 acres of government land in Chinnakanal in end-November and forcibly removed about 160 families of landless tribals who had set up their huts there some months ago, following a government assurance that they would get land in the area. Their huts were reduced to ashes and red party flags were hoisted over the remains, signalling the “liberation” of the land. As the hapless Adivasis took shelter under a huge rock nearby, the CPM men completed the “anti-encroachment” drive by building their own sheds on the property.
Though the eviction of the Adivasis was limited only to Anayirangal and Pappathichola villages on the first day, the next day the CPM lumpens took control of almost all the revenue land under the Chinnakkanal village panchayat by hoisting red flags. The exercise on the second day was carried out by about 2,000 cadre. The Adivasis are now in a difficult situation as they have nowhere to go after losing their newly-constructed huts to the Communist onslaught. The CPM men are still guarding their “liberated territory” even as the police and district administration turn a blind eye.
The tribal families, who had pitched tents on 1,500 acres allotted to Hindustan Newsprint Limited years ago for a eucalyptus plantation at Chinnakkanal, were caught unawares as the CPM cadre staged their takeover operation. The newsprint company was not using the land anymore and the entire stretch had, in fact, originally belonged to the tribals.
The tribals had earned the CPM’s wrath ever since they threatened to recover the land and not leave until the government honoured its promise to distribute the land to lanless Adivasi families. Tribal families had occupied the land under the banner of the Adivasi Punaradhivasa Samrakshana Samithy (the Tribal Rehabilitation Protection Committee).

“It is a Nandigram in the making. Who empowered these CPM men to evict Adivasis from land earmarked to be distributed to them? Why are they not allowing the judiciary and their own government to implement the rule of the land? It is a clear case of the party using muscle power to encroach on public land and prepare it for transfer to the land mafia,’’ says noted tribal leader CK Janu.
Though CPI leader and state Revenue Minister KP Rajendran responded soon after the CPM action in Chinnakanal, saying all encroachers would be expelled immediately irrespective of party affiliations and that orders to this effect had been issued to the district administration, no action against the CPM land-grabbers has been taken so far. KM Ramanandan, head of the special task force for evicting the land-grabbers in Munnar, held an all-party meeting on the issue but this too produced no results.
ACCORDING TO agitating tribals and social workers in the region, the CPM is determined not to allow transfer of the land in Chinnakanal to the Adivasis. “This can lead to a Muthanga-like situation if the authorities do not take stern action immediately,” says Ponnambalam, a landless Adivasi who is spearheading the resistance against the CPM in Chinnakanal. Muthanga
had seen the worst-ever police action against Adivasis in the history of Kerala when Adivasis in the northern Wayanad district had put up huts in the forest after the AK Antony-led UDF government failed to distribute land to them as promised. An Adivasi and a policeman were killed in the police action in February 2003, and several tribals injured. Those Adivasis are
yet to get their promised land.

“The aim of the Marxists is to prove that the Adivasis are not entitled to the land. As they are in power, they can easily provide false papers to support their claim and use force to expel us from our land. Once this is done, they can freeze distribution of this land and hand it over to the land mafia,” Ponnambalam says.

The revenue minister told TEHELKA that all the agitating Adivasis would be given land and that all encroachers would be expelled irrespective of the colour of the hoisted flags (the Marxists allege that even Congressmen have hoisted flags there). But this would not be easy in the prevailing circumstances in Chinnakkanal panchayat. Observers say that even if a temporary withdrawal of the CPM cadre takes place, awarding of land to Adivasis will not be smooth. “The CPM has already put forward the argument that only 21 of the 120 Adivasis who put up sheds are entitled to the land. It will be easy for the CPM to call for a review of the offer letters issued to the Adivasis, which in turn would ensure a delay sufficient for carrying out the party agenda,” says TC Rajesh, a journalist from the region.
The tribals had been provoked to put up shelters on the land because of a deal struck between the Chief Minister AK Antony and tribal leader CK Janu some years ago. At a grand function, Antony had distributed title-deeds to 798 tribal families but only 540 of them got the land in Chinnakanal. The rest found the land allotted to them under occupation of big land sharks.

“These poor people had waited for more than five years for their land. The government has forced them to resort to direct action,” says tribal solidarity leader CP Shaji.
Local CPM leaders allege that the Congress and the CPI have instigated the tribals to occupy the land so they could grab it themselves once the dust settles.
However, the district collector has already sent a report to the government saying that most of the government land in Chinnakanal is under the illegal possession of CPM leaders. The collector has also confirmed that a lobby of tourism resort promoters, which has on its side a former district collector, is behind the push to usurp tribal land.

“The village is a prime tourism spot which shares its border with the Mathikettan national park and the hill station of Munnar. The land in dispute is also close to the picturesque Anayirankal dam. The real estate mafia feels it can be developed to fetch
large profits,” says Rajesh.

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