How would you feel if you had a sandalwood tree worth Rs 1 cr right on your front yard — happy, delirious, blessed?
For Soman, a native of Marayoor in Idukki district of Kerala, the precious sandalwood trees in his compound have been the bane of his life.
This is because, like for most Idukiites, Soman’s plot was assigned to him under Kerala’s Land Assignment Act of 1960. The law was passed to regularize quasi legal holdings of land in hilly districts of Kerala that were the result of the ‘hill migrations’ of plains people during the 50s and the 60s from districts such as Kottayam and Pathanamthitta.
Under the Land Assignment Act, the allotted land can be used only for the limited purposes of housing and agriculture only.
Precious trees that are found such land — which used to be under heavy forests at one time — are considered government property and the assignee is prohibited from cutting or otherwise disposing of such assets.
For Soman, whose travails have been highlighted by local media, the rules have meant that he is under constant threat from thieves.
According to these reports, Soman has already tied up by thieves in 2008 as part of an operation to cut down and transport sandalwood trees from his compound.
Now, he says, he fears a repeat of the incident unless the government evacuates the tree on its own.
Soman has been petitioning local authorities to have the tree monetized. However, Soman’s exhortations have not yielded much by way of results so far, and the local revenue department officials have so far authorized only clearances of branches and twigs.
Soman says the tree currently has a circumference of 80 inches. This puts its value at around Rs 1 cr in the market.
Sandalwood is used in the manufacturing of perfumes and other cosmetics as well as for making fragrant articles such as statues and bowls.