Kerala forest, revenue ministers disagree over private forest vesting amendment Bill

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Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala ministers for forest, revenue and law will convene a special meeting to examine the Kerala Private Forests (Vesting and Assignment) (Amendment) Bill in detail. There was no consensus between the forest and revenue ministries regarding issuing title deeds to private vested forest lands.

The cabinet will consider the draft amendment after the meeting of the ministerial panel. Meanwhile, the revenue and forest departments have decided to offer relaxations, including the issuing of possession certificates for private vested forests up to 50 cents.

In favour of small-scale and nominal farmers, the revenue department urged the issue of title deeds for private vested lands up to 50 cents. However, the forest department discarded this demand and later opted to dispense possession certificates for individuals holding up to 25 cents of forest land. Though Minister for Forest AK Saseendran reported the decision at the cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Minister for Revenue K Rajan marked his dissent. Small scale farmers will be affected if relaxations have not been granted in the case of private vested forest land up to 50 cents and it would undermine the value of the Land Reforms Act, said minister Rajan. The chief minister and law minister P Rajeev supported the arguments of K Rajan.

The Kerala Private Forests (Vesting and Assignment) (Amendment) Bill states that the certificate of purchase may be a piece of evidence but cannot be a conclusive proof that the land held by a person is under personal cultivation.

Kerala Land Reforms Act and a 2019 Supreme Court verdict however state that the certificate of purchase issued under Land Reforms Act, is also a conclusive proof that the respondent has been in possession of the land as a cultivating tenant and the said land is exempted from vesting under the Kerala Private Forests (Vesting and Assignment) Act, 1971. The amendment was moved saying the court order will "create devastating and sweeping effects in the private forest litigations." An ordinance was promulgated in 2020 for the same.

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