The killing of Shail Bala, assistant town planner (ATP), Kasauli, and injuries sustained by a labourer during the demolition drive on Tuesday has created a scare among forest and revenue officials who have moved in to apple orchards to remove illegal forest encroachment as ordered by the High Court.
The teams have reached Kotkhai and Jubbal apple belt to cut down apple trees, currently bearing apples. These orchards were on the forest land encroached by orchard owners during the past three decades. Last week, the HC had ordered the forest department to identify cases of big encroachment, following which 13 big orchard owners who have encroached 50-200 bighas of forest land were identified.
Initially, the drive by the forest department was limited to small orchard owners. As per records submitted in the High Court by the forest department, hundreds of bighas of forest land have made way to apple orchards in Kotkhai, Rohru, Jubbal, Chopal, Kotgarh and other places.
“If this is kind of things (Kasauli incident) start happening, who will pick fight with the powerful encroachers, many of them having already turned into riches from the apple income? There have been incidents last year when the forest staff was attached, abused and pushed by the encroachers when they went to cut down their trees,” an Indian Forest Services (IFS) officer said. Last year, Hoshiar Singh, a young forest guard, was killed allegedly by the forest mafia and his naked body was hanged with a tree upside down. The CBI is probing the case.
“We must not ignore such incidents (Kasauli). It points to a deeper malaise in our system. The corrupt allow the mafia to break laws and then few honest officers become targets when they go in there to implement court orders or refuse to compromise,” a senior IAS officer said.