| Saranda on sale'
Ranchi, March 9: Jharkhand High Court today directed the state government to file an affidavit on the illegal sale of forestland to individuals.
Responding to a public interest litigation filed by a Hazaribagh-based social worker Sunil Pandey, the division bench of Chief Justice M. Karpagavinayagam and Justice N.N. Tiwari expressed grave concern over the facts submitted by the petitioner.
Pandey claimed in the petition that an independent inquiry, possibly by the CBI, had become necessary because neither the police nor the forest department is sensitive enough to the illegal transfer of forestland.
The PIL alleges that thousands of acres of forestland had been transferred to individuals in Hazaribagh alone. But the forest department, despite information supplied by the petitioner, had been able to identify only 39 acres of such illegally-transferred land.
The department had also failed to name the officials responsible for making the transfers or inform the petitioner of action taken against the officials and also the buyers.
The petitioner claimed to have been monitoring the transfer of forestland since 1983. Parts of forestland in reserved and national park area in Hazaribagh has been alienated in favour of private individuals with no one to put a check on the practice.
Describing the modus operandi, Pandey claimed that the land mafia, in connivance with forest department officials and the land revenue department, first doctor documents to convert forestland into non-forestland and then sell the plots to unsuspecting buyers. While forestland cannot be transferred or sold, many buyers, Pandey claimed, are not even aware that they have been involved in an illegal dealing. The petition points out the diminishing forest cover in the state over the past few decades and accuses the state government of not showing any concern. The depleting forest cover will affect the eco-system in the state, the petitioner apprehended.
The forestland that has been sold-off illegally also does not figure in the forest map of the state, Pandey added.
The judges observed that it was a matter of concern if malpractice such as those cited by the petitioner take place in a state which is known as the “land of forests” or Jharkhand. The petitioner argued that the credibility and conduct of the forest department is suspect and only a CBI inquiry would unravel the scandal.