SC verdict may trigger political sparring

The Supreme Court verdict on the Harrisons Malayalam case upholding a High Court order issued on April 10 would trigger a political sparring between the rival fronts over the government’s alleged laxity in conducting the case. The issue could be traced back to a slew of charges levelled over alienation and the possession rights of about 30,000 acres of land spread over seven districts such as Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Idukki, Thrissur, Kozhikode and Wayanad by the company.

In the wake of complaints, the United Democratic Front (UDF) government had appointed Land Revenue Commissioner M.G. Rajamanikkam as Special Officer and constituted a panel comprising Collectors of these districts to probe mainly the complaints of transfer of revenue and forestland leased out to the company. Mr. Rajamanikkam was appointed as per the provisions of the Land Conservancy Act.

Strong findings

The high-level panel came out with strong findings against the company and said that “in all cases of alienation which have come to light, registration of sale documents was carried out without verifying whether the vendor had alienable rights. This is in violation of the (Kerala Land Registration Act) and Transfer of Registration Rules.”

The report sought to cancel the mutations carried out on land based on erroneous registrations. “It is evident to the committee that M/s. HML has been surreptitiously alienating properties in Kerala. This is in blatant violation of the KLR Act. However, this has not been bought to the notice of the courts in a suitable manner,” the report said.

This set the ground for a string of litigations and the UDF government appointed Susheela Bhatt as government pleader. When the Left Democratic Government assumed office, Ms. Bhatt was removed from the post and the Opposition UDF dubbed it as a move to help the company. A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court on April 10 set aside the order of the Special Officer to take over the land from the company. The Bench comprising Justice K. Vinod Chandran and Justice Ashok Menon allowed a petition filed by HML and said the State government had willingly succumbed to public outcry without looking at the legal implications.

The court also pointed out that title could not be adjudicated under the Act that was intended only for the eviction of unauthorised occupation.

Title issue should be adjudicated before a civil court, it said. The latest verdict may again trigger a political storm and the Opposition may yet again accuse the government of losing out to the company by conducting the case in a shoddy manner.

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