Monday, June 08, 2009

India: Forest dept failed to sniff plot against Lion conservation for 27 yrs

5 Jun 2009, 0422 hrs IST, TNN

AHMEDABAD: The Gujarat forest department apparently does not seem to have any problem with constructions taking place inside the Gir jungle to
make way for fresh human habitation right in the Asiatic lion's den.

After a plot of land in the middle of the sanctuary changed three hands, the forest department has decided to object to the sale on grounds that the Maldhari who was originally given this plot to get him out of the forest 27 years ago, continues to live inside the protected forest area!

This is revealed in an affidavit filed by deputy conservator of forest, Amit Kumar before the Gujarat High Court in objection to the demand by petitioner Anil Chudasama who seeks to build on the land allotted to a Maldhari family for the purpose of resettlement.

The Maldhari, Raja Rabari was allotted three hectares of land in Najpur Chhatariya village in Mendarda taluka in 1982 to resettle him from a ness (local term for Maldhari village) in the middle of the Gir Sanctuary. In 1998, Rabari got the land tenure converted and sold it to Govind Chudasama, who in turn sold it to Balu Chudasama. In 2007, Anil bought it and started building on the plot.

The forest officials stopped him from clearing the land and booked him for an offence under the Forest Act and Wild Life Protection Act. He approached the court against the forest department claiming his right to use the land.

Replying to this, the forest department claimed that the land fell in the Devaliya Range and "It is very much a part of the lion habitat of the Gir Sanctuary and surrounded by dense forests." The officer also revealed that Rabari had never shifted to this plot and continued to live in his ness, which was a breach of the resettlement contract. Hence any transaction on this plot was illegal and all three sale deed are now null and void.

However, the forest department didn't react during all these years, though this land is inhabited by lions. On the contrary, the affidavit said that if the Maldhari had shifted to this land and "stayed away from the sanctuary, the forest department had no reason to oppose any transaction of this plot".

During a proceeding on Thursday, Justice MR Shah pulled up the forest official for putting forth such an argument before the court. This affidavit is inconsistent with the purpose and objective of resettlement scheme, the judge observed.

Meanwhile, the Junagadh district collectorate has told the court that 280 plots out of total 588 allotted to maldharis have been sold out, whereas the forest department has put the figure at 300.

The court has kept further hearing on this issue on Friday.


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