As election fever grips Ernakulam and officials busy with pre-poll works, the rampant reclamation of water bodies, paddy fields, wetlands and destruction of mangroves are going unnoticed. Environmentalists and Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA) raised concern over the disappearance of mangroves and vanishing marshy lands. “Many instances of reclamation of paddy fields and wetlands came to our attention after poll date was announced. There are also violations of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms. Most activities are carried out with political support. Moreover, the lobbies behind it are aware that officials won’t bother now,” said Sridhar Radhakrishnan, programme director of NGO Thanal. He said the government’s order regularizing reclamation and conversion of paddy fields taken before 2008 has given a boost to illegal paddy land reclamation. “It is learnt that in Ernakulam alone 27,000 to 30,000 applications have been submitted before the district collector. A majority of these have been filed to regularise land reclaimed after 2008. Election has become a perfect cover to carry out these actions,” he said. Activists said there were reports of wetland reclamation from Vallarpadam and mangroves being destroyed in areas around Mundamveli. Similar activities were reported from Maradu also. At Nettoor in Maradu, wetlands are being reclaimed adjacent to Maria Goretti Public School. It falls under CRZ 1,” said environmentalist M J Peter. “Paddy land reclamation is widespread in Angamaly. Two weeks fencing works were carried out on a paddy land near St Joseph’s Girls High School at Karukutty. Arecanut saplings have also been planted here. Coconut and mango saplings have been planted in another paddy land near Elavoor Junction,” said activist Nipun Varghese from Angamaly. Environmentalists claimed that such things were happening in Alappuzha too in Kuttanad, Kayamkulam, Chengannur and Cherthala regions. Meanwhile, the revenue department maintained that they had received several complaints every day. On condition of anonymity, a revenue officer said: “Village officers are bound to initiate action against illegal reclamation of paddy and wetlands. Many hesitate to act. When pressure mounts on them, stop memos are prepared, but not issued. There is no law to punish village officers for not acting on a complaint.” He also said the government had provided laptops and internet connection to all village officers, and had trained them. “Though it is not difficult for them to include satellite images of controversial land while preparing reports based on complaints, these electronically generated date cannot be used as an evidence. Unless, changes are made in the law to facilitate the use of satellite images as evidence, this problem cannot be addressed,” added the official. However, KCZMA maintained that though they were aware of violations of CRZ norms, they have not received any formal complaint in this regard. “We can act only if we receive a complaint regarding violation of CRZ norms,” said senior scientist with KCZMA.

2016, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd.