Forest row

a team comprising secretaries of the forest and revenue departments has been set up to file a detailed report on the rampant land-grabbing in the forests of the Mathikettan region in Kerala. The Union ministry of environment and forests has also taken stock of the situation. Earlier, the state government had shifted more than 100 revenue department officials, including district collector K J Mathew, out of Idukki district.

The anti-corruption bureau is already investigating the role of the district collector and the Munnar district forest officer (dfo) in the controversy. Tribal leader C K Janu is, meanwhile, demanding action against ministers and top forest officials alleged to have abetted the grabbing of over 1,250 hectares of these virgin forests.

This fragile green belt is the abode of over 36 species of endangered flora listed by the World Conservation Union (iucn), says Jomy Augustine, professor, St Thomas College, Pala. "These forests with their relict flora and fauna are like oceanic islands warranting close study and protection,' points out Satis Chandran Nair, regional director, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (intach).

Interestingly, forest encroachments have been going on unabated in Idukki for five years. In 1995, efforts by the forest department (fd) to evict encroachers had to be shelved. Apart from the nebulous legal status, the "dual control' system led to encroachments in various forests in Idukki. Large tracts of wet evergreen forests in the Udumbanchola taluk remain under the cardamom hill reserve (chr). Though notified as a