It is unclear at this point if there will be direct involvement of the UAE government or whether the UAE government is only a facilitator for participation by private companies. There are worries that a tourism township in Idukki district’s environmentally fragile areas could lead to further ecological devastation. The Gadgil and Kasturirangan reports explicitly discourage such tourism and construction initiatives in the Western Ghats and adjoining areas.
The tourism township proposal was initiated by the state government on November 9, 2023, following which a communication was sent by the tourism department to the revenue department on December 13. According to a communiqué by the principal secretary (revenue) to the land revenue commissioner (accessed by TOI), the government directed the land revenue commissioner to find suitable land in Vagamon or Munnar for the project.
A high-level meeting was convened by the chief secretary on December 18, in which senior officials of tourism and revenue departments participated. “A meeting will be convened presided over by the chief secretary on December 18 in his committee room, to discuss developing tourism township in the hill stations in the state under the aegis of the UAE government,” the communiqué sent by principal secretary (revenue) said. “A report has to be furnished to the government, at the earliest, after examining whether suitable land is available in Vagamon or in Munnar, in Idukki, suitable for the tourism township project proposed by the UAE government,” the communique added.
Since the matter is yet to be placed by the government in the public domain, the UAE govt’s exact role is unclear. “The proposal was made when the UAE ambassador met the chief minister. When the government gets a proposal for a major investment, why deny it? The government is looking forward to an eco-friendly project since these two places that have been shortlisted are ecologically fragile areas,” a senior government official told TOI on condition of anonymity. In case of direct involvement of the UAE government, the Centre’s decision will be decisive as a sovereign government acquiring property in India can be routed only through diplomatic channels. In case, the project is a private initiative, parallels will be drawn to Kochi SmartCity which was presented initially by the then UDF government as an information technology initiative that later turned out to become a UAE-based private company’s integrated township in Kakkanad.
Real estate development of this magnitude in the name of tourism envisaged in Munnar and Vagamon goes against the recommendations of Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (Gadgil Committee) and the Kasturirangan Report. The government had recently framed detailed guidelines for constituting a Munnar Hill Area Authority with an aim to ensure sustainable development with uniformity, take appropriate decisions on encroachments and to protect the environmental uniqueness of the Munnar area. With regard to Vagamon, even basic land records are unavailable — these include basic tax register (BTR) and field measurement book (FMB) that will have concrete information on land holdings and exact extent and location of government land and porambokes in Vagamon village.