The Kerala High Court on Wednesday set aside a government order empowering district Collectors and revenue divisional officers to grant permission under the Kerala Land Utilisation Order to owners of 10 cents of land in panchayats and five cents each in municipal and corporation areas to construct residential buildings on their land which had not been included in the databank prepared under the Kerala Conservation of Paddy and Wetland Act 2008, but termed as paddy land in the revenue records.
The government order issued on December 22, 2016 also makes it clear that the land included in the databank should be taken as wetland or paddy land.
The land converted before 2008 and included in the databank should be dealt with under the Kerala Land Utilisation Order.
The court passed the verdict on a batch of writ petitions challenging the government circular. The petitioners contended that the order was beyond the power of the government.
The government contended that the circular was issued to ensure that there was no misuse of the provisions of the KLU order, especially in the context of the Paddy Land Act.
Preservation of paddy land and wetlands was paramount for the well-being of the community. The KLU order spoke of prior permission for conversion of land use.
There could not be any regularisation of conversion of land done long back. A large number of applications under the KLU order for conversion had prompted the government to issue the circular.
The court also observed that the databank had included many land converted prior to the introduction of the Paddy Land Act 2008. The deluge of litigation in the court indicated that inclusion of land in the bank had been done in a haphazard manner and the practical aspect as to whether the land was cultivable was not looked into.
The government had set up the State Remote Sensing and Environment Centre (KSREC) which verified the satellite data and issued reports on land use change.
The draft for the databank was prepared without any satellite picture as mandated in the Act.
The totally unscientific manner of preparing the databank without identifying the cultivable land coupled with the unrealistic stance of government officials had resulted in opening a virtual Pandora’s box of litigations.
The court also said the Act, though aimed at promotion of agriculture, was toothless in achieving the purpose. What best could be done was the restriction on enjoyment of the property by the landholders. If conversion was prevented, there should be some method by which the land could be put to cultivation. The databank had to be revamped and the State had a duty to put the land into cultivation by itself or through third parties.