High Court of Kerala, conversion of rice fields, conservation of wetlands

Kochi: The Kerala High Court has ruled that those who bought paddy fields (or even land having an expanse of paddy fields) after the enactment of the Kerala Paddy Fields and Wetlands Conservation Act in 2008, cannot collect them to build a house. The order was issued by a full bench following various orders issued by a single bench and a division bench on the matter. Chief Justice S Manikumar, Justice Shaji P Chaly and Justice Sathish Ninan issued the order.

The court pointed out that the division bench order which authorized the reclamation of paddy land and its conversion for house building was incorrect. He also claimed that the objective of the Kerala Rice Paddies and Wetlands Conservation Act 2008 was to preserve the rice paddies listed in the data bank and therefore no relaxation can be granted.

The court was considering a case in which it considered whether those who buy land on lease can convert the rice paddies.

Relevantly, if a person owns the paddy before the enactment of the law and the person does not own any other land, then there is a provision to convert the land, but with certain area limits. However, in the case except one, all the other petitioners had purchased the land after the law was enacted. The sole petitioner inherited the land by deed of gift. Specific to the single petitioner, the court informed that it will consider the claim legally.

The other petitioners claimed that the segregation of owners based on the year of enactment is discriminatory and that the purpose of the law was not to ban conversion altogether. However, the bench rejected this argument. The court pointed out that Kerala was once self-sufficient in paddy production. It listed data on how the conversion affected paddy production. He also reported that the state now depends on imports for its 80% consumption.