After a frustrating seven-year long wait and multiple reminders, the forest department in the district has given an ultimatum to revenue authorities to either return its around 15,000 hectares of forest land or seek permission from the Ministry of Environment and Forests to keep the land after changing its status.
Forest officials allege that of the 15,000 hectares of land, around 11,349 hectares seem to have been given to individual beneficiaries while the rest has fallen prey to huge encroachments.
The forest department wants the “reserved forest” land returned to it for afforestation activities. Forest officials met Pune’s divisional commissioner last week to press their demand.
The matter dates back to 2005, when the revenue department was given around 35,000 hectares of forest land in the district for use. In 2009, state’s principal conservator of forests issued directives to reclaim the land, citing a government circular of April 1976 that said the revenue department must hand over forest land back to the forest department if the latter sought it and if the land is not in use.
“Since 2009, our department has been in regular communication with revenue authorities. Of the 35,183 hectares of forest land, the revenue department has returned 20,890 hectares to the forest department. The remaining land, which is likely being encroached upon or which may have seen a change in land use, had not been handed back to us,’’ said forest officials.
“We have been in constant touch with revenue authorities to demand back the forest land. However, because of extensive encroachment, revenue authorities too are finding it difficult. Either they give us the land at the earliest so that we can start afforestation activities or the land status should be changed,” said a senior forest official from the district.
Forest officials say they have been sending reminders to the revenue department once in almost every two months, besides meeting revenue officials at regular intervals, but to no avail.
The 35,183 hectares of reserved forest land in question is spread across 219 villages in Pune district.
In 2008, the state government has asked the district administration to conduct an inquiry into large-scale irregularities alleged in the allotment of forest land in Pune to individuals.
Forest officials have alleged irregularities in the allotment of this land in Indapur, Daund and Baramati talukas.