By P.T. Bopanna
In a major decision to safeguard the fragile ecology of Kodagu (Coorg) district, the Karnataka High Court on Wednesday ruled that a ‘No Objection Certificate’ (NOC) issued by the technical committee headed by the deputy commissioner should not be construed as permission for conversion of agriculture land for non-agricultural purposes.
A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum passed the order after hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the revenue department order dated June 4, 2020. The court issued notice to the chief secretary, revenue department, department of ecology, forest and environment, principal chief conservator of forests, Kodagu DC and chief conservator of forests, Kodagu district.
The revenue department issued the order constituting the technical committee headed by the DC to issue ‘NOC’ for land conversion under the Karnataka Land Reforms Act. Once the NOC is issued, buildings can be constructed with approval from the village panchayat and local institutions, the order said.
The petitioner, Col C.P. Muthanna, submitted that some coffee estate owners, without knowing the feasibility and contours of their land, are filing applications before the DC to get their agricultural lands converted for non-agricultural purposes. He pointed out that some of the ongoing construction projects will be devastating to the hilly areas of the district.
This reporter has been highlighting how paddy fields are being converted into housing layouts in Kodagu, despite the back-to-back calamity caused by unscientific land use.
Housing layouts are being formed on paddy fields by the side of the highway at Hathur town and another major project near Malambatti on Virajpet-Madikeri highway.
The newly appointed deputy commissioner, Charulata Somal, should immediately halt constructions and review the permissions allegedly obtained through fraudulent means.
It is learnt that a previous DC had fraudulently given sanctions for conversion of paddy lands into layouts. There is no reason to allow the fraud to be perpetuated. A message should go out that the fragile landscape is not damaged by unscrupulous builders.
The DC should look into reports of irregularities in the sale of Jamma lands. According to reports, revenue officials (tashildars and assistant commissioners) were exercising ‘arbitrary’ powers to effect the sale of Jamma lands.
Though there was no provision for the sale of Jamma lands, unique to Kodagu, a controversial amendment was introduced when the present Virajpet MLA K.G. Bopaiah was the Speaker to gain political mileage.
This reporter is signatory to a petition before the Karnataka high court seeking the quashing of the Karnataka Land Revenue (Third) Amendment Act. Since the matter is still pending before the court, there is need for exercising caution in effecting arbitrary powers in the sale of Jamma lands.
Though landslides have occurred for the third year in a row in Karnataka’s Kodagu (Coorg) district, located in the fragile Western Ghats, there is lack of transparency in the land use pattern in the district.