Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Junagadh District News – Sasan Gir Forest

Was lion's land sold illegally?

Is the lions' abode up for sale, and by none other than the forest and revenue departments? It may appear so as shocking details emerge in a case filed in the Gujarat high court by one of the holders of a plot of land. The forest department and revenue department on Thursday furnished details about the 588 private owners of such plots of land.

Of the total 588 allotted plots of land, 300 plots have been sneaked into the hands of people who are not Maldharis.

The most shocking part perhaps is that at least 42 square km area of land adjoining the sanctuary in eight talukas along the circumference of the lions' abode has been sold off.

This list of those holding the 300 plots is possibly dotted with high profile businessmen, influential politicians and their kin. What has come out in the documents presented in the court by forest and revenue authorities is that these transactions have happened with their knowledge and consent.

This land is considered sacrosanct as well as extremely valuable due to its proximity to the Asiatic lions' habitat. This revenue land had been sought by the forest department to rehabilitate the Maldharis living inside the sanctuary area to create more space for the lions.

However, over the past two decades, 588 plots of land, each of 2.5 hectares, was sold off by these Maldharis, who then returned to dwell inside the forest sanctuary area.

The land when allotted to them was under the new tenure, under which they could not resell it to a non-tribal, non farmer entity. However, sometime after the allotment, the status of the land was changed to old tenure by the mamlatdar, under which sale was allowed to private entities. One such private owner Anil Chudasama had filed a petition in the High Court after he was stopped from tilling his land in Mendarda taluka, very close to the sanctuary. Justice MR Shah, who heard the case took serious note about such transfer of land.

The next hearing of the case is scheduled on Friday.There are contradictions between the forest department and revenue department's figures about the land that was sold under resettlement scheme.

According to an affidavit filed by the forest department, of the total 588 plots of land, some 300 plots of land have been sold by converting it into old tenure. 250 land plots are with Maldharis who are the original allotees and possession of 10 land stretches have been confiscated by the department.

However there is no mention about the rest 28 plots. On the other hand according to an affidavit filed by the Junagadh collector, 279 plots have been sold to various third parties in eight talukas of Junagadh.

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