Friday, August 03, 2012

Return of the Maldharis: Did forest dept know the secret?

Return of the Maldharis: Did forest dept know the secret?

Did the forest department purposely turn a blind eye to the fact that Maldharis relocated from the Gir Sanctuary had been selling their land and returning to the sanctuary? Prima facie it seems it was indeed the case. For, there were several indications regarding the same, with even the CAG too pointing out irregularities in the matter.

A 2010 CAG report highlighted that between 1972 and 1978, 588 families were shifted out of the Gir protected area. The report stated that each relocated family was given eight acres of cultivable and grazing land, 600 sq meters of residential plot and Rs6,050. The report said that a total of 257 families were not shifted.

Of the 588 families that were relocated, 87 returned to the forests and began residing there with the authorization in the protected area, the report further said. According to the CAG report, adequate steps to prevent relocated Maldhari families from returning to the protected area were not taken.

"Consequently, the expenditure that was incurred on their earlier relocation towards farm lands, housing plots and cash, proved to be infructuous," the report had then commented. A forest official, in know of the situation said that several of the Maldhari families that were relocated had indeed returned to the forest. "It is a known fact among the forest department and Gir officials that some of the relocated Maldharis had returned to the sanctuary and were living there," said the official.

With the Maldharis returning, shouldn't the officials have asked what happened to the land given to them? Apparently nobody bothered to look into the question with the result that several the community continued to sell their land to third parties. Even the CAG report apparently did not act as a wake up call. The matter only came to light after one Anil Chudasama filed a petition in the HC challenging the forest departments' decision not to let him farm on a piece of land he bought from a Maldhari.

Chudasama had bought the land near Mendarada taluka from a Maldhari who was given the plot by government in 1982. In his affidavit he had alleged that the forest dept officials from time to time fined the Maldharis who had returned to Gir but did not bother to prosecute them. The Gir and its surrounding areas, is home to 411 lions as per the last census.

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