Land in lions' abode sold illegally
Times of India
A huge racket of selling protected forest land in and around Gir to hoteliers, industrialists and politicians, was unearthed when someone who was obstructed from constructing on such land moved the Gujarat High Court.
Justice MR Shah on Tuesday called for records of all 588 such land deals, by which the land allotted to Maldharis or ness inhabitants (ness is the local term for settlements in Gir) during their relocation from the only home of Asiatic lions, was sold to hoteliers and others. These compensatory plots were located in the Gir sanctuary covering 1,470 sq km, protected and reserve forest area and revenue area, which is under the collectorate.
Initially there were 129 Maldhari 'nesses' with 845 families comprising 4,802 people and 16,842 livestock population. According to the 1972 relocation scheme, each Maldhari family was given 3.2 hectares of agricultural land and a 610-sq m plot for constructing homes, free of cost. The process of relocation continued up to 1986 and nearly 600 families were resettled. Currently, there are no Maldhari nesses in the national park, but there are 54 nesses in the sanctuary area.
The land allotted to these Maldhari families was as per the new tenure, which barred its sale for any other purpose. But the revenue department, over a period of time, allowed it to be converted to the old tenure enabling its sale to the rich and influential which also saw the beginning of commercial activities, that could be disturbing to protected wildlife here.
The racket was unearthed after Anil Chudasama who bought a plot adjacent to the national park in Mendarda area from a Maldhari, moved the high court when he was prevented from constructing on it. Like him, more than 580 people had bought land in the reserved forest also, reportedly after obtaining clearances from all authorities.
He argued that the authorities were permitting influential people to construct, so why not him?
Alarmed with the revelations of illegal land transactions, Justice Shah summoned revenue and forest officials to court on Tuesday and asked them to explain how they allowed construction in this restricted area despite clear provisions under the Indian Forest Act and the Wildlife Protection Act.
The Mendarda mamlatdar told the court that he had issued notices in 12 such cases. But the court wanted more details and fixed the next hearing for Thursday.
Justice Shah appointed advocate Amit Panchal as an amicus curiae to assist the court observing, "The prime concern of the court would be to protect Gir Sanctuary and reserve forest, and to see that land in forest area doesn't go to those who don't deserve and who can misuse the Gir Sanctuary and also to safeguard environment and other aspects."