The Kerala High Court issued notice on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed seeking direction to initiate necessary action against those who have encroached into the areas of Uttarappalliyar river.
The PIL filed by Rural Development and Cultural Society ( registered association of residents of the watershed area of Uttarappalliyar River in Alappuzha District) seeks the following reliefs:-
i. Call for records leading and issue a writ in the nature of certiorari quashing order in so far as it delegates the authority to remove encroachments from the Utharappalliyar and its river banks to the Secretaries of local panchayats;
ii. Issue a writ in the nature of mandamus commanding the Secretary, Department of Revenue, Thiruvananthapuram and District Collector , Alappuzha (2nd and 3rd Respondents) to complete the survey and the demarcation of the boundaries of Uttarappalliyar river in Cheriyanadu, Puliyoor, Ennaykkadu villages and to erect juntas marking the boundaries of the river, as is shown in the relevant litho maps;
iii. Issue a writ in the nature of mandamus commanding the 2nd and 3rd Respondents to complete the dredging activities to restore the Uttarappalliyar river in Ala and Venmony villages where survey and demarcation of boundaries is complete;
iv. Issue a writ in the nature of mandamus commanding the 2nd and 3rd Respondents to initiate necessary action under Land Conservancy Act or other laws against those who have encroached into the areas of Uttarappalliyar river shown in the litho maps and evict the encroachers within such time as may be fixed by the High Court;
v. Issue a writ in the nature of mandamus commanding the 2nd and 3rd Respondents to take appropriate action in cases where portions of Uttarappalliyar river as shown in the litho maps have already been assigned, to acquire such lands to ensure the uninterrupted flow of the river; within such time as may be fixed by this Hon’ble Court;
vi. Issue a writ in the nature of mandamus commanding the 3rd Respondent to consider and pass orders on representation, after affording an opportunity of hearing to the Petitioner’s representatives, within such time as the High Court may deem fit.
According to the petitioners, the river starts from Achankovilattu in Venmony Village and flows through Ala, Cheriyanadu, Puliyoor, Ennaykkadu Villages to join the river Pampa in Budhanur Village. The river had been the source of water for approximately 2500 acres of land in these Villages, suitable for agriculture and other domestic uses.
Petitioners have submitted that over time, the flow of water was devastatingly blocked, on account of intermittent encroachments and excavation of sand. This leads to major health hazards. The blockage in the flow of water also results in annual floods, affecting traffic and daily lives. Petitioners have been at the forefront of the agitation to restore the river to its former form for over a decade. The major demands were that the extent of the river be accurately surveyed as per the old sketches and plan, unauthorized encroachers in its area are evicted, land that has been assigned from the river area at market value is recovered, and boundaries of the river be demarcated.
Petitioners have further submitted that as per the information from Central Survey Office, regarding the existence of the Uttarappalliyar in five Villages, it is clear that the maps of all the above Villages confirm the same. Petitioners were informed by a letter from the Chief Engineer’s Office, Department of Irrigation, that a proposal regarding the restoration of the river has been forwarded by the department of major irrigation and that the department of revenue has requested the re-survey department to measure its boundaries.
It is also submitted by the Petitioners that consequent to the aforesaid reports, petitioners filed another representation before the Minister for Revenue dated 08.06.2017. Petitioners had specifically demanded that to prevent further encroachment of the river, its boundaries should be clearly demarcated by erecting juntas. Thus, the petitioners filed a representation before the Chief Secretary, Government Secretariat, Thiruvananthapuram (1st respondent). When no action was taken on the said representation, petitioners filed Petition in the High Court.
It is further argued that the High Court disposed of the said petition directing the 2nd respondent to hear the petitioners and pass a speaking order. Accordingly, the 2nd respondent passed a detailed order dated 23.02.2022 directing the 3rd respondent to hand over survey records and details of encroachers to Secretaries of respective Panchayats. It is submitted that the said order is against a series of judgments of the High Court which lays down that the District Collector is the authority under the Kerala Land Conservancy Act, 1957, who should take action against illegal encroachers. Aggrieved by order of the 2nd respondent , this petition is filed.