Vijay Pinjarkar, Times News Network, July 20 2018
Greens and environmentalists have challenged the state-level committee report submitted to the government, which states that zudpi jungle is not forest and Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, is not applicable to these lands.
Reacting to the TOI report of July 9, former National Wildlife Board (NBWL) member Kishor Rithe said, “There is nothing new in the report. Earlier, principal secretary (forest) had already given a formula to address the zudpi jungle issue. The same solutions have been suggested by the committee,” said Rithe.
He added revenue officers need to read the land classification in Land Revenue Code before calling zudpi jungle as ‘gairaan’ (grazing lands). “It would be interesting to see entire list of zudpi lands under encroachment. The officers deliberately allotted zudpi lands for construction of residential quarters of high court judges, so that other buildings could get protection,” said Rithe. “They have also tried to worry citizens by mentioning areas under zudpi land in Nagpur in the report to get protection for wrong doings in entire Eastern ,” said Rithe.
According to him, as per the Supreme Court orders, when the committee was constituted to identify forests as per the new definition of forest, zudpi jungle was not considered as it was already a forest. “However, the committee is trying to take that as shelter to prove that
it is not even an identified forest,” he said.
The committee’s assertions also go completely against the stand taken by the central ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) in a letter sent to the state forest department on June 27, 2018. The letter, which states that state government has authority to approve transfer of zudpi land to other departments, ends by explicitly mentioning that no provisions of FCA 1980 should be violated.
Environmentalist Debi Goenka said the state panel report is based on several fundamentally flawed assumptions. “It mentions that the total zudpi jungle area was 9,23,913 hectares. Out of this, 6,55,619ha was notified. So, balance 2,68,294ha still remains to be notified. But report talks only about 1,78,524ha, of which 92,115 has been notified as reserve/protected forest, and 86,409ha has been considered ‘unsuitable’, and government wants it to be de-notified at one go. The report doesn’t talk of balance 89,770ha,” says Goenka.
Based on the report, PCCF (HOFF) UK Agrawal had sent a positive note last week to the government. “I agree with the SC ruling that “forest” must be understood according to its dictionary meaning, and we cannot obviate from the legal stand, but the report talks about
86,409ha land which was used for government projects only. This land should be brought out of the purview of the FCA,” said Agrawal.
However, wildlife conservationist Prafulla Bhamburkar says the report talks of duplicity. “On one hand workable zudpi land is acceptable to the government but wants exemption on non-workable zudpi land. This indicates that FCA is applicable and hence net present
value (NPV) should be charged for non-forestry use of the 86,409ha land,” said Bhamburkar.
Goenka said the report claiming that are not forest lands is the most condemnable part.
“In 1987, state had urged MoEF to keep zudpi jungle out of FCA purview. When Bombay Environment Action Group (BEAG) and I challenged this in high court, the government had backtracked,” he told TOI.