Vast swathes of forest land, bigger than Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary, one of the biggest protected areas in the state with 85, 112 acres, is under illegal occupation of settlers across Kerala. A joint survey of Forest and Revenue Department found that settlers occupied 86,163 acres of land, an area bigger than the size of many wildlife sanctuaries in the state.  

 

The joint survey checked the occupation of forest land up to 2016. The largest area under illegal occupation is in Idukki district where settlers encroached into 63,407 acres of forest land, thrice as big as Idukki Wild Life Sanctuary. 

 

Even though the state government, in principle, wants to regularise the land occupied by the settlers by providing land titles, it is not legally possible as the state government has no right to hand over forest land without the centre's approval as per the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. 
 

Related: LDF mulls amendment to allow quarrying in assigned lands, including forest areas
 

After repeated requests from the state, the union government had exempted 71,471 acres of forest land from the Forest Conservation Act in 1993 to allow the state to provide land titles to the settlers who occupied forests before 1 January 1977. Out of this, titles were given to settlers in 60,000 acres.  The remaining 11,471 acres are yet to be regularised. With the addition of this land, the forest land in illegal occupation in the state would go over 97,600 acres! 

 

Under pressure from the settlers, the previous UDF government issued a gazette order to include the occupation of forest land up to June 2005 as eligible for land title distribution. But the order had to be revoked as it went against the Kerala Land Assignment (Regularisation of Occupations of Forest Lands) Special Rules 1993
The state government had come under criticism recently following its move to give the nod to quarrying in forest land assigned under the special rules.