A thick, gray cloud of dust lingers over Kerala’s picturesque hill station of Munnar. Locals say they have never seen anything like this before.
That’s because this ecologically sensitive town, lush green with coffee, tea and cardamom plantations, has only witnessed a rise in tourists over the years and with that a flourishing tourist economy.
In the process, they’ve failed to notice that the thriving resorts and hotels have been developed illegally on government land.
So it is not surprising that locals gawk when they see bulldozers reduce multi-storied hotels and inns to dust in a matter of minutes. More so because this is the first time the state is witnessing such a large-scale demolition.
In the last four days, 60 illegal constructions of the 500 that were served eviction notices have been razed. The demolition started after Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan formed a three-member special taskforce to crack down on land grabbers.
“I will not rest till all forest and government lands are freed,” said Achuthanandan. The CM has even alerted officials to identify similar encroachments in the famous backwater resorts of Kumarakom, Wagamon and Kovalam in the state.
On Thursday, the taskforce received a fillip after the Supreme Court refused to entertain the plea of the Munnar Hoteliers’ Association. Hotel groups say the demolition is unlawful.
“We have valid papers. To paint all resorts with the same brush and weave a campaign of disinformation is unfair,” said Riaz Ahmed, managing director of Abbad group of hotels, a major hospitality chain in the area.
“There are at least 3,000 illegal structures around Munnar and surrounding areas. We have served notices to 500,” said Kairnar K. Suresh Kumar, the head of the taskforce. “We need at least three months to clear all encroachments.”
Locals never expected an action of this magnitude when the eviction notices were served. “We have only seen it in cinema,” said Munnar resident Velayudhan Pillai. Interestingly, they have boycotted the drive and the taskforce has had to summon labourers from Idukki’s neighbouring districts.
About 3,000 resorts and hotels in Munnar and surrounding areas have encroached 20,000 acres of government land. “The land-grabbing turned serious in the last seven years. Many illegal constructions came on these lands without valid title deeds,” said Idukki collector and taskforce member Raju Narayana Swamy.
Revenue officials and local politicians connived with land grabbers to give away ownership certificates. And protected cardamom forests, which were leased for farming, turned into palatial cottages and fancy resorts.
But after Achuthanandan visited the hill station — often called the Kashmir of the South — last week, things started moving fast. Despite much criticism from his own party, Achuthanandan handpicked three officials of his choice to lead the demolition.
Day one of the drive saw 22 luxury villas of the BCG Group hotels and the six-storied Summer Castle come crashing down. Other big resorts that face demolition include the Las Palmas, Autumn Trees and Misty Buds.
Email author: email@example.com