Kerala HC Quashes Order Allotting Land To Church At Rs 100 Per Acre


(MENAFN- IANS) Kochi, Feb 23 (IANS) The Kerala High Court has quashed the state government's 2015 decision to assign 5.5 hectares of land at Kallodi in Wayanad at Rs 100 per acre to St. George Forane Church, which had encroached on the said land.

"Poor landless tribals are agitating to get lands for their livelihood and agriculture. In such a situation, huge government land is assigned to the respondent (church) invoking the powers of the Land Assignment Act and Rules. I am of the considered opinion that this is not only illegal but infringes the constitutional rights of the tribals including the petitioners. This is nothing but piercing a knife to the hearts of the innocent, ever-smiling tribals in Wayanad," the court said.

It said that encroachers of government land are not entitled to any equity and there is no public interest to assign a property when there is admitted encroachment.

"There is no vested right in any person to claim assignment on the registry of government land. Encroaching on the government land and making illegal constructions on it will not give any vested right to encroachers. The government land should be allotted to the downtrodden and not to the wealthy and mighty people," the court added.

However, the court, though quashing the government order that assigned the land to the church, has given an opportunity to it to purchase the property at the present market value. It further pointed out that if the church is not agreeable, then the government must recover the land and distribute it to eligible persons.

If the church purchases the land, the entire amount received from the sale must be utilised for the welfare of the tribal community in Wayanad.

The court order came on a petition moved by a group of social workers who belong to the landless tribal community in Wayanad. The petitioners pointed out following protests by the tribal community after the starvation deaths of 32 tribals in 2001, a seven-point agreement was reached with the state government which stated that five acres of land would be given to them wherever possible.

It was the petitioners that pointed out that the church illegally encroached upon the 5.5 hectares of land in Mananthavady in Wayanad from 1962 onwards.

When the state government responded that the assignment of land was based on Rule 24 of the Kerala Land Assignment Rules and did it in public interest, the court asked: "What is the 'public interest' in this case?"

"Simply because some educational institutions and religious institutions or cemetery are constructed after the encroachment, the land cannot be assigned stating 'public interest.' Rule 24 has no application at all in this case," the court stated, quashing the government orders that assigned the *pattayam* for the land to the church.

The court then ordered the State government to file an action taken report within eight months.

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