Supreme Court: While deciding a question of substantial importance as to whether the order of conversion of land passed by the Tahsildar under Kerala Land Tax Act would circumvent the provisions of beneficial legislations such as Kerala Conservation of Paddy and Wetland Act, 2008 and the Kerala Land Utilization Order, 1967 (KLUO), the bench of V. Gopala Gowda and R. Banumathi, JJ held that the nature of the land cannot be changed or converted by directing changes in the basic tax register which is maintained only for the purpose of land tax. The Court dealt in detail with the provisions of abovementioned Act and the KLU Order and observed that statutory enquiry to ascertain whether the land is a “Paddy Land” or “Wetland” and conversion of the land for residential purpose or for any public purpose is governed by KLU Order or the Kerala Wetland Act, 2008 for conversion of the land from “Nilam” (Wetland) to ‘Purayidam’ (Dry Land). The concerned authorities under the Order and the Act are the competent authorities to decide on such conversion.
Discussing the scheme of both the relevant legislations, the Court analysed the object of KLUO which is (a) to bring occupied waste or arable lands likely to be left fallow during a cultivation season under cultivation with paddy or other food crops; (b) to prevent the conversion of any land cultivated with food crops for other purpose, except with the written permission of the District Collector or the Revenue Divisional Officers in case the powers of District Collectors have been delegated to them. It also referred to clause 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the Order. It further examined the object of the Act which is to conserve the paddy land and wetland and to restrict the conversion or reclamation thereof, in order to promote growth in the agricultural sector and to sustain the ecological system in the State of Kerala. Section 3 of the Act prohibiting conversion of land is also relevant and Section 13 read with Section 3 provides that District Collector is empowered to order re-conversion of the land only if reclamation or conversion was made after the commencement of the provisions of the Act. The Court also pointed out that the Act provides for local level monitoring committee, State level and District level committee to ensure proper implementation.
Also referring to section 18 of the Kerala Land Tax Act, it was observed that it cannot be used as a means to affect conversion of the nature of the land bye-passing the competent authority and the procedure. The Court allowed the appeal and set aside the impugned judgment of the High Court thereby directing the respondents, in connected matters to approach the competent authorities constituted under the Order and the 2008 Act. Revenue Divisional Officer Fort, Kochi v. Jalaja Dileep, 2015 SCC OnLine SC 194, decided on 10.03.2015