INDIA - In the wake of AG’s query why no tax was collected from units
The controversy over installing windmills by usurping tribal land at Attappady about a decade ago took a new turn on Tuesday with the Sholayur grama panchayat directing owners of 23 wind power units located in its jurisdiction to stop generating power and remove the towers with immediate effect.
The move is in response to the Accountant General (AG)’s query why no tax was collected from the controversial units, which continue to feed the generated power to the grid of the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB).
No tax paid
Panchayat secretary Nithin Kailas told The Hindu that all the windmill towers had been installed without permission from the local body. No tax was paid to the government since they were set up. As per rules, each wind power generating unit had to pay Rs.70,000 as annual tax. As each unit occupied 120 sq m, they would have to pay land tax too.
Tribal land encroachment by the wind power companies was one of the key campaign issues of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) in the last Assembly elections, but the dispute over the alienation of 85.21 acres of tribal land remains unresolved.
Though four years have elapsed since the then Palakkad District Collector K.V. Mohankumar discovered the role of some government officials in fabricating documents and a committee headed by the Chief Secretary recommended reclamation of the land and disciplinary action against the officials, the UDF government has not taken any steps to restore the land to the tribespeople.
The AG’s order has now prompted the local body to take action. According to official documents accessed by The Hindu , the 85.21 acres of land was part of the 374.48 acres that Sarjan Realities Ltd., a subsidiary of Suzlon, had acquired at Attappady where Suzlon Energy had installed 31 windmills.
The windmills were later sold to some film personalities and entrepreneurs. Among the 31 windmills, those coming under the Sholayur panchayat are now facing action.
Following protests by the UDF in the wake of the findings of the Chief Secretary, the then Electricity Minister A.K. Balan had admitted that the windmill companies had encroached on tribal and forestland at Kottathara, Sholayur, and Agali villages.
The Integrated Tribal Development Project Officer of Attappady also submitted reports confirming the encroachment. The Collector suggested a comprehensive inquiry.
No action by UDF
“Top UDF leaders reached Nallasinka in Attappady in July 2010 to lead an agitation demanding reclamation of the tribal land. They later led a delegation of tribesmen to Delhi and met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi for their intervention,” says M. Sukumaran, convener, Attappady Samrakshana Samithi. But nothing happened even after the UDF came to power.
Though the government had suspended four government officials and three officials of the Attappady Hill Area Development Society in connection with the case, all of them returned to service later, he said.