BEFORE it has even got down to the process of selecting candidates, the ruling Congress in Kerala finds itself faced with rebellion within over land-related decisions taken by the government just before the election notification was announced.
State Congress president V M Sudheeran has taken a stand against a government order that allows the revenue department to accept land tax from Karuna Estate in Palakkad district, spread over 833 acres, at a time when the government is engaged in a legal battle over its ownership.
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Earlier this week, Sudheeran wrote to Revenue Minister Adoor Prakash of his party, asking the government to revoke the order allowing the village office to collect tax from Poabson Group, which has claimed ownership of the estate.
On Wednesday, the cabinet decided on an amendment rather than revocation the order. The amendment will say that the decision to accept land tax for the estate would be subject to the result of a writ petition pending in the Kerala High Court.
After the government had decided to do a survey of the disputed estate, the Poabson Group had moved the high court in 2014. In an interim order, the court asked the government not to take any further action after the survey.
The government’s refusal to revoke the order has upset Sudheeran, who has told the party’s state executive committee that he sticks to his demand.
Congress sources said the KPCC president is of the opinion that the government cannot take such a controversial decision on the eve of an assembly election. He has questioned the urgency of issuing the order towards the end of the tenure of the government, which is supposed to protect the state properties.
This has caused a division within, the sources said: while a section of party leaders backed Sudheeran’s stand, it was the dominant groups led by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala that wanted the order retained.
Sudheeran is of the view, which he has expressed in public, that the order smacks of corruption and will affect the party in the elections. The other camps, on the other hand, believes it is rather the controversy created by Sudheeran’s opposition that would embarrass the party in the election.
After the party executive committee meeting, Sudheeran told journalists, “An amendment to the order is not enough, instead that very order should be cancelled. People have doubts about the government’s intention behind such an order. If those doubts have to be cleared during the time of an election, the order itself should go,’’ he told the media.
Last week, Sudheeran had forced the government to revoke an order to fill vast tracts of paddy fields and backwaters for tourism and health projects in Kottayam and Kochi. The government had issued an order for reclamation of 376 acres in Kottayam and 87 acres in Kochi three days before the notification for the elections was announced.
The government decision had come under sharp criticism from within the Congress, with opponents calling it a violation of the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act 2008.
In the land reclamation controversy too, the camp led by Sudheeran was opposed by the groups led by Chandy and Chennithala. But as the Opposition took it up a major corruption deal, the government had no option but to go back on its order.
On Wednesday, after Sudheeran refused to relent on the estate tax issue, Revenue Minister Prakash alleged there is a conspiracy against him.
“Certain quarters wanted to mislead the people and put me under the shadow of suspicion,” Prakash said. “The issue of paddy reclamation was unnecessarily created to target me. Certain quarters have a political agenda behind raising such issues during this election period.’’