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The Kerala government today decided to call an all-party meeting to seek support for continuing the anti-encroachment drive in the hill resort town of Munnar even as it slammed the manner in which a Cross was removed from alleged encroached land there. Earlier in the day, police booked Tom Scaria, an evangelist of the 'Spirit of Jesus' organisation, in connection with the erection of the Cross. A case was registered against him under section 447 (criminal trespass) of the IPC and under provisions of Land Conservancy Act on the basis of a complaint filed by an additional tehsildar, police said. The decision on the all-party meeting was taken at a high-level official meeting here tonight chaired by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and attended among others by two ministers, an official release said. The meeting was held a day after controversy erupted over the removal of the 30-foot tall Cross put up allegedly by encroaching government land in Munnar. The Cross was removed as part of drive against encroachments in the town. Munnar, situated about 1,600 metres above the sea level and dotted with plantations, was once the summer resort of the erstwhile British government in South India and now a favourite destination for tourists. It has of late become a hunting ground for encroachers as well.
The earlier LDF government headed by V S Achuthanandan had launched the anti-encroachment drive in a big way. At the meeting, Vijayan strongly came down on Idukki district officials for the manner in which the Cross was uprooted at Papathichola by revenue officials yesterday. "It was also wrong that officials went for the eviction drive to remove the cross without informing police and with activists of 'Land Protection Sena'," the release said. It was wrong on the part of the officials to remove the cross without informing the government and using earth movers for the same at midnight after declaring prohibitory orders, Vijayan said at the meeting. "The officials are bound to work for the government. If they fail to do so, they cannot stand as part of the government," he said. Vijayan had yesterday expressed displeasure over the removal of the Cross. After the meeting officials were also directed to view differently the settlers and encroachers. Priority should be given to evict 'big encroachers', the release said. It was also decided to take steps to give land to landless and title deeds to those who had settled before Jan 1, 1977, the statement said. On May 21, a title deed mela would be held in Idukki. Revenue Minister E Chandrasekharan, Power Minister M M Mani, Idukki Collector G R Gokul and Sub-Collector Sreeram Venkataraman were among those who participated in the meeting. Earlier, the ruling LDF also held a meeting here to discuss the issue. Meanwhile, the Syro Malabar church today supported the anti-eviction drive saying it was against all encroachments, but said the manner of removal of the Cross was a 'bit rough'. Major archbishop Cardinal Mar George Alencherry said erecting a Cross encroaching forest land cannot be justified. The BJP slammed Vijayan for expressing "displeasure" over the removal of the cross from encroached land. Party's state president Kummanam Rajasekharan told reporters that the controversy on removal of the cross was "unfortunate". He wondered why Vijayan was now taking a "soft stand" over removal of the Cross as he had earlier denounced the move by a Sunni sect to build a mosque to showcase the Prophet's holy relic.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)