As state Forest department bulldozers continue to flatten farmhouses they say have come up on protected land at Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, the question everybody is asking is: Why are the structures being razed so many years after construction?
The answer, the Forest department says, lies in ‘blurred maps’ and continued use of an archaic system of maintaining land records.
In 2013, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had reprimanded the Delhi government for “creating an unmanageable situation” by not clearly demarcating forest areas of the Ridge, allowing illegal structures to thrive.
The Forest department promptly prepared 14 digitised maps of the Ridge and uploaded them on its website. These maps revealed the extent of illegal constructions in forest areas.
Environmentalists allege these farmhouses came up because Forest department officials were hand-in-glove with the land mafia, but officials say the ‘blurred’ maps are to blame.
“In a number of cases, the maps made available to us by the Revenue department were blurry. The system of khasras, which is used for maintaining land records in the country, is not very scientific and led to confusion. Clarity emerged only after we used geo-satellite imaging to plot the area,” a Forest department official said.
Documentation of land through the khasra system predates the colonial period in the country and each khasra typically lists out the details of a piece of land — including the area, its measurements, details about the owner, trees on the plot etc.
But the Forest department said this system has created confusion for them in Asola village on the outskirts of the wildlife sanctuary. “In a number of cases, the khasra has been made out in Urdu and those who have been dealing with land here cannot read the language. This is especially problematic,” an official said.
“There are two issues here. First, in some cases, a person might have legal right over a small piece of land, but has encroached upon additional land that belongs to the Forest department and thus increased his plot size,” Nisheeth Saxena, deputy conservator of forests and tree officer (south), said.
“Secondly, in some cases, residents have khasra documents for plots of land. But those documents are, in fact, not for the land where they are residing, but for different plots of land. So, they are residing illegally on Forest department land,” he said.
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