LDF government to amend 1960 law to regularise buildings and developments on land allotted for farming purposes

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government will amend a major land law to enable regularisation of constructions on land assigned to settlers, primarily in Idukki district, solely for agricultural purposes.

The proposed amendment to the Kerala Land Assignment Act, 1960 seeks to legitimise land diversion for purposes other than farming and additionally stated objectives (conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural land). The move is expected to benefit thousands of homesteaders who have settled in the rugged and forested terrain for generations.

The amendment seeks to ease the uncertainty among residents regarding the lawfulness of deviations from the mandated land use pattern under the 1960 law.

A meeting chaired by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan here on Tuesday decided to legislate on the proposed amendment in the Assembly’s Budget session scheduled to commence on January 23.

At a stroke, the amendment, if passed, would dilute the restrictions on land use in the environmentally sensitive Western Ghat region, primarily Idukki, in Kerala in some measure. The amendment would also empower the government to regularise developments on land assigned solely for farming purposes.

For one, the proposed amendment would empower the government to authenticate buildings (with a floor area of up to 1,500 sq ft) constructed on land allotted for agriculture or plantation purposes by levying a fee.

The revision to the law is expected to boost hill tourism and give citizens more latitude to transact land or mortgage their properties as collateral for bank loans.

The amendment also proposes to exempt public buildings and commercial buildings from regularisation. They include those owned by charitable societies, structures defined as public buildings under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, educational institutions, offices, commercial centres, religious, cultural or recreational facilities, clinics, bus stands and roads.

The Bill also aims to expedite the distribution of nearly 20,400 hectares of land approved by the Central government for allotment to settlers in the Cardamom Hill Reserve. The draft Bill is pending public circulation.

The decision might also bring political dividends for the LDF and potentially diminish the United Democratic Front standing in settlements abutting protected forests, including the Opposition’s Church-bolstered redoubt in Idukki. Notably, the proposed law to lift the restrictions on the use and alienation of land assigned land in Idukki is a long-standing demand of the powerful Idukki diocese of the Syro-Malbar Church.

The Church in Idukki has a history of proactive involvement in issues dogging the Idukki citizenry. For one, it spearheaded the agitation against the “restrictive” Madhav Gadgil report on Western Ghats conservation.

Of late, the Church mustered people seeking exemption from the Supreme Court’s proposed ecologically sensitive buffer zone within a 1-km radius of protected forests. The Church deemed the measures prioritised conservation over livelihood.

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