CBI, CAG probe demanded into zudpi jungle ‘disappearance’

Vijay Pinjarkar, Times News Network, November 10 2017

Link to the news article

The Bombay Environment Action Group (BEAG), which fought a legal battle against denotification of zudpi jungle since 1988, has written to Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and director general (DG), forests, demanding a CBI and CAG probe into vanishing zudpi jungle land in Vidarbha.

BEAG has demanded a probe into how zudpi land went down from 3.5 lakh hectare in 1988 to a mere 1.78 lakh hectare today, as per figures submitted to Forest Advisory Committee (FAC). It wants a probe into the role of all revenue and forest officers involved in this cover up.

On October 26, 2017, FAC had accepted state government’s recommendation to denotify 86,409 hectare zudpi land, and free over 54,179 hectare from applicability of Net Present Value (NPV). Remaining 32,229 hectare was to be kept as it is, and in case of diversion, NPV would be charged on this land. These figures account for just 1.78 lakh hectare of zudpi jungle.

In the communication to PMO on November 6, Debi Goenka of BEAG has pointed out that zudpi jungles are spread over five districts — Nagpur, Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, Wardha, and Bhandara in Vidarbha, and protected under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

Goenka claimed that a 1988 writ petition by BEAG in the Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court had challenged a state GR to denotify 3.50 lakh hectare zudpi jungle. The petition ended after the state assured the HC it would not denotify the 3.5 lakh hectare zudpi forest, and promised to continue their protection under the FCA.

Even as the 1988 petition dealt with 3.50 lakh hectares, official records show that when Maharashtra came into existence, there was 9.23 lakh hectares zudpi jungle. Of this 6.5 lakh hectare was notified as reserve or protected forest.

The remaining 2.68 lakh hectare continued to be zudpi forest managed by the revenue department till 1996, when SC ruled “the word ‘forest’ must be understood according to its dictionary meaning. This description covers all statutorily recognized forests, whether designated as RF/PF and zudpi too.”

Of the 2.68 lakh hectare zudpi, 89,768.39 hectare had already been diverted for non-forestry purposes. Now, as per state government report, 1.78 lakh hectares only is left as zudpi jungle.

Goenka says, while demanding denotification of zudpi land, the state assured it will notify 92,115 hectare zudpi land as reserve and protected forest, considered suitable for forestry management. “But only over 16,000 hectare have been notified, and remaining 75,000 is yet to be notified as RF/PF,” he adds.

“The state started with 3.50 lakh hectares, and is left with 1.78 lakh hectare zudpi land today. For what purpose the remaining land was used needs to be probed,” said Goenka. He also said that the FAC order should be withdrawn, and denotification of 86,409 hectare zudpi forest should not be allowed, as it will further reduce forest cover.
“No diversion should be allowed from zudpi jungle. Or, the government should compensate by notifying equal amount of ‘non-forest land’ as forest, maybe in wildlife corridors contiguous to other forest areas. These lands will form compactness and help create a diverse gene pool for tigers,” said wildlife conservationist Prafulla Bhamburkar.
BEAG further demanded a 10-year perspective plan from the state for greening of zudpi jungle, which may also include compensatory afforestation against future diversion of forest lands for government purposes.

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