Forest Fear

mulundBy Accommodation Times News Services

Mumbai suburbs are on forest land but who should be blamed?

By Dr Sanjay Chaturvedi

Mumbai’s new issue is – it is developed on the forest land. To this effect MP Kirit Somaiya has field PIL in Bombay High Court. It was all started when Forest Department came out of their hibernation after 50 years and announced that some of central Mumbai residential development in suburbs is on forest land. Project of Nirmal, Runwal, Merathon and other were on stake. Hundreds of buildings and thousands of residents were stun by the declaration. And the department announced that even western part of Mumbai is declared forest land hence it should be evacuated.

What the law says :

The Urban Dwellers ( Right to Forest Lands and Resources) Bill 2005 maintains that “urban dwellers’ are those middle and upper class individuals (with an annual income of over Rs.1 Lakh) or families ( with an annual income of over Rs.2 lakh) living in cities and towns, including rich individuals/ families ythat live in villages with an urban lifestyle.
The Act also gives Rights to Urban dwellers like : 1. The right to land …. For diversion to other use, including submergence for power generation, urban expansion, transmission lines and pipelines, and any other project or process; 2. The right to wood from all kids of forests, for house building …. And all other products urban dwellers need as essential for lifestyle; 3. The right for herbal and medicines; 4. The right to minerals; 5 The right to unlimited electrical power; 6 The Right to enjoy, for aesthetic pleasure and psychological well-being; 7 The Right to extract any amount of water 8; The Right to deny above uses to the communities that have traditionally lived within or adjacent to such ecosystem…
The Act also imposed duties on the government like : It shall be the duty of the central and state government to ensure that the above mentioned rights are enjoyed free of any encumbrances.
Penalties imposed by the Act : Anyone obstructing the above rights, ie. Denying such rights to urban dwellers without good reason, will be guilty of an offence under this Act…..

Under the colonial regime:
• The government Forest Act (1865) – gave the government the right to declare any forest as reserve.
• The Forest Regulations (1867) Prohibited the practice of shifting cultivation in the Central Province.
• The Indian Forest Act (1878) – Divided the forest into three categories, reserved forest, protected forest and village forest.
• Indian Forest Act (1927) – Further reduced access of forest dwellers into the forest.

After 1947 :
• The National Commission on Agriculture decided that shifting cultivation was wasteful of timber and marketable forest resources and did not merit consideration as a form of cultivation and land use (1976)
• The Forest Bill (1978) – States objectives that include, prevention of customary rights of forest people. The bill also states that any land the government declares as ‘forest’ is reserved.
• The Forest (Conservation) Act (1980) Sought to restrict ‘use of forest land for non-forest purposes’.

A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has come down heavily on several states for not utilising, in fact diverting, funds meant for afforestation. On May 5th, 2006 verdict from Supreme Court (SC) referred to the report and decided to requisition the funds from states. SC has ordered the formation of an ad hoc body, which will have to recover all the money collected in the name of the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority ( CAMPA) from states and transfer it to the bank account, operated by the new body. The Compensatory Afforestation Fund under CAMPA was supposed to be created and operationalised by November 2002, as per a SC judgement that year.
The 2002 judgement has directed that any development project on forestland would have to pay for Net Present Value (NPV). – the intangible benefits against loss of forests, in addition to the loss of tress. The value of forests for this purpose was set at an ad hoc amount between Rs.5.8 and Rs.9.2 lakh per hectare, a one time payment needed to be made by user –agencies.
This means, state government got legible rights to charge the developmental activities and allow development in the city of Mumbai and its suburbs. Either the state must have done it or may be Forest Departments is now compelled after SC order to deposit the sum received by them for such activities. If they have not done it, then they are saving their skins by announcing such statements. And if they have collected it, it must have misused as mentioned in CAG report. According to the sources Maharashtra has diverted 50000 ha of land for about 70 projects. The amount collected was disclosed by the authorities because it is fluid with compensatory funds being added all the time, they say. It is going to pinch the states a lot to return all the money collected since 2002.
Thus, the development is legal as far as forest land is concerned because it only asking for the compensation as mentioned above and get the permission from the forest department..

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