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Real estate and Agricultural Wetlands in Kerala

Publication Type : Journal Article

Publisher : Economic and political weekly, Environment, Technology and Development: Critical and Subversive Essays- Essays from the Economic and Political Weekly (2012), Edited By Rohan D’Souza p: 394.

Campus : Coimbatore

School : School of Engineering

Center : Sustainable Development

Department : Chemical

Year : 2009

Abstract : The rice culture of Kerala is fast vanishing due to the increasing diversion of the land for non-agricultural purposes. The real estate sector is gradually swallowing up the rice cultivating low-lying wetlands. This paper attempts to examine the growth of real estate business and consequent destruction of the wetland ecosystems in the state. W etlands are an important part of the ecosystem and are also the most threatened part of it (Turner 1991). Conserving wetlands as shields against scarcity of water, floods, en-vironmental pollution, and distress of mi-cro-climatic vagaries is therefore impor-tant. Kerala has the largest proportion of land area under wetlands among all the states of India. Compared to other states of the country, wetlands in Kerala are un-der severe anthropogenic threats primari-ly because of high population density and the peculiar distribution of human habita-tions in the state. According to Nair and Sankar (2002), who mapped the wetland systems of Kerala using Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellite data, the state has a total of 217 wetland units of which 157 units extend over more than 56.25 ha. In an agriculture-based economy with paddy as the prime crop the rice-growing wetlands of the state were significant. However, the steep growth in agricultural income in the state suddenly declined dur-ing the mid-1970s and have been fluctuat-ing thereafter (Mahesh 2000) due to the redistribution of landholdings. Farmers began diverting the waterlogged rice fields to perennial crops such as coconut or are-canut. They also started growing other more profitable crops like rubber. Land is habitually kept fallow for years since culti-vation is not profitable and as a result, pri-ority is given to cash crops such as rubber, coffee, tea, coconut, arecanut, and nutmeg ( At present, rub-ber plantations cover about 18% of the total agricultural land and 11% of the to-tal geographical area of the state (Chat-topadhyay and Chattopadhyay 1997). There are many factors responsible for this rapid change from the rice culture of the state: shortage of labour, increased labour charges, and hikes in the cost of input are the major ones. According to Raj (2003) the percentage of population engaged in agriculture has gone down drastically to around 26% of the total rural population. The agricultural labourers have decreased to 16.07% from 25.55% of the total during 1991-2001 (www.kerala However, about 60 lakhs of people in the state directly de-pend on rice cultivation (Harigovindan 2007). The state economy in recent years is subsidised by the non-resident Indian (NRI) remittan ces that amount to more than Rs 20,000 crore per annum. Keeping a wetland fallow for a while, as a prelude to diverting it for other uses, is a common trend in Kerala, especially near highways, roads, or commercial ventures. It is common to consider wetlands as waste-lands that provide much greater service if drained and reclaimed, a belief that is grossly ignorant of the valuable ecosystem services wetlands provide. Filling up wet-lands and paddy growing areas and con-verting them into built-up areas has become a practice since the late 1980s because of increased cash flow and economic deve-lopment due to NRI remittances. The real estate business has thus become a big venture in the state. The lack of justifiable returns and incentives from rice cultiva-tion, high population density, a consu-merist way of life, easy access to finance and demand for land for building have paved the way to a booming real estate sector. Increase in the agricultural land-holding after the Land Refor mation Act-1963 has also catalysed the diversion pro-cess in the state. The 1990-91 agriculture census shows that there are 54.18 lakhs of total agri cultural landholdings in the state of which 84% is less than 0.5 ha (www.

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