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Friday, September 24, 2021

Pune: Man produces fake order in name of ex-minister, almost walks away with forest land worth crores

The Hadapsar resident had submitted a bogus 2018 order in the name of the then Revenue Minister directing to de-reserve the forest land and transfer its ownership to him.

Written by Manoj Dattatrye More | Pune |
Updated: September 7, 2021 3:33:03 pm
The 18-acre forest land is estimated to be worth over Rs 200 crores in the market. (Express Photo)

Pune district officials have foiled the attempts of a local man to defraud the government of 18 acres of forest land — the market value of which is estimated to be worth over Rs 200 crore — that he had claimed ownership of by producing fake documents.

Following a complaint submitted by revenue officials on Friday, police on Saturday said they have filed an FIR against the accused, Hadapsar resident P P Shitkal, on charges of cheating and forgery.
Shitkal had furnished bogus documents from 2018 in the name of then minister Chandrakant Patil, who is now the state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president.

“His documents made us believe that the order was indeed issued by the minister on 31.1.2018. And therefore, we had transferred the forest land in his name,” Haveli tehsildar Trupti Kolte told The Indian Express.

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The tehsildar said the man had produced 15 copies of the order, which he claimed was issued by the minister for disforestation or de-reserving of the forest land located in Hadapsar area. “When I saw the order, I also believed it to be issued by the minister because it was written well, with clarity. The man had also submitted High Court citations, document proof and other papers. We issued a 7X12 extract (document), which gave ownership of the land to the individual last month,” said Kolte.

Shitkal’s cover was blown when Kolte’s department cross-checked with Mantralaya and sought original copies of the orders. “The original order issued by the minister had rejected the claim of the individual to de-reserve the forest land. The original order was of five pages. However, the man had produced a 15-page fake order with various details, explanations, precedents, stamp, seal, signature and proofs,” the tehsildar said.

When contacted, police inspector VS Bahirat of Khadak police station said, “We have registered the offence against the individual on the basis of the complaint submitted by the tehsildar.”

What rose suspicion among the officials was the fact that he had submitted the documents in April for an order that he claimed was issued in 2018. “When we asked him as to why he was submitting the copy three years later, he said the delay was due to the fact that his case was pending in Bombay High Court and also due to Covid-19 restrictions. This raised doubts…,” Kolte said.

The man, while seeking to de-reserve the forest land, had claimed that his ancestors used to till the land around 60-70 years back and therefore, its ownership should now be transferred in his name as the rightful claimant under the Forest Act, she added.

Range forest officer M J Sanas said, “The 18-acre forest land is in the possession of the forest department. In 2015, we put up fencing around the land and have been taking care of it. Before 1980, the government had transferred some land in the name of those who had been tilling it for years or those who have been evicted for construction of dams and other projects. However, after 1980, the rules have become stringent and transfer of forest land does not take place that easily.”

Sanas said officials have conveyed to the Collectorate that the land in question belonged to the forest department and has not been de-reserved by the government.

Kolte, the tehsildar, said that as per the government Ready Reckoner rates, the 18-acre land is worth Rs 65 crore. “The market value of the land could be more than Rs 200 crore,” an official said.

District officials said they have urged the police to investigate the matter further. “It is not possible that the accused has done this on his own… the way the order has been written in typical official language and wordings, which even we could not suspect…. We believe there are more people behind this deal and police should catch them,” the tehsildar said.

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