Vijay Pinjarkar, Times News Network, November 7 2017
Controversy has erupted over state forest department’s interpretation of Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) decision on 86,409 hectares zudpi jungle land, which according to the state government is not suitable for forest management.
The issue of zudpi jungle came up before the MoEFCC’s FAC on October 26. State has recommended to the Centre to denotify 86,409 hectares zudpi land and allow its use for any purpose including non-forestry.
The forest department in an official release claimed that of the 86,409 hectares, FAC has exempted the government from paying NPV on 54,179 hectares. Of this, 27,507 hectares is under encroachments and 26,672 hectares is under non-forestry use. Remaining 33,229 hectares fragmented land has to be maintained as forest land.
However, the FAC minutes mention that the recommendation of state government to denotify entire 86,409 hectare zudpi land is not according to legal provisions.
When contacted, APCCF & nodal officer G Saiprakash says, “Though the FAC has not explicitly said that NPV is exempted, it implies the same meaning. The district collector will have to certify status of such lands and if present use of the land is still a zudpi jungle, its status will have to be retained.”
However, experts have slammed the forest department for misinterpreting the FAC decision. Environmentalist Debi Goenka said this virtually means that the government is regularizing all the encroachments on 54,179 hectare zudpi land.
“This is a huge fraud being perpetuated by the forest department not only on the people and environment but also on the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court,” Goenka said.
“The department doesn’t have any explanation on how the area of 3.50 lakh hectares of zudpi jungle has reduced to 1.90 lakh hectares between 1988 & 2017. This is a huge land scam. A state that can spend Rs5,000 crores on a statue can certainly pay NPV, so why exempt it from paying NPV,” said Goenka.
On the 54,179 hectares land, FAC states that this land be considered for post facto approval under Section 2 (II) of the Forest (Conservation) Act subject to mitigation measures. It is silent about NPV.
APCCF Saiprakash too admits that there is no clarity, but it seems from the minutes that two category of lands — land under encroachment and land already under non-forestry use — will be exempted from NPV.
Former member of National Board for Wildlife Kishor Rithe said leaders have a wrong notion about zudpi jungle. “These lands were grazing grounds handed over to the forest department at the time of merger of Vidarbha in Maharashtra. In Madhya Pradesh, these lands were with the revenue department. As government needs to approach MoEFCC in almost every project case, it feels zudpi land is a hurdle.”