Bungalow blow to Arundhati - Allotment on notified forest land cancelled in Panchmarhi

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  • Published 7.05.03

Bhopal, May 6: Rights crusader Arundhati Roy has been caught on the wrong foot — a hilltop bungalow her husband owns near Panchmarhi stands on notified forest land and has to be pulled down.

The Panchmarhi district administration last week informed the couple that the allotment of the land on which the bungalow stood had been cancelled on grounds of violation of forest law. Section 18 of the law bars buying and selling of notified forest land.

The order spells trouble for Arundhati and three of her neighbours — writer Vikram Seth’s sister Anuradha, a forest officer Nishkant Jhadav and a doctor at a police training centre, Jagdish Chandra Sharma. All have bungalows in Bariyam village, about 7 km from the Panchmarhi hill resort.

But Arundhati’s is easily the best-looking one: perched on a small elevation, it overlooks twin hillocks and vast rolling greens. A small water body heightens the picture-postcard effect. Those who have entered the house — Arundhati comes visiting about thrice a year when she is adding decibels to Medha Patkar’s Narmada crusade — say it is tastefully furnished.

Arundhati’s filmmaker-husband Pradeep Kishan bought the 4,346 sq ft plot way back in 1994. Trouble started when the state government filed a petition before the naib tehsildar of Piparya, saying the Forest Act of 1972 prohibited sale of land in notified forest area.

Another case was subsequently filed before Madhya Pradesh High Court challenging the sale of the land. Notices were then issued to Kishan and the others.

But the respondents failed to show up before the naib tehsildar, leading to the cancellation of allotments.

Hoshangabad collector Ashish Upadhaya — within whose jurisdiction Panchmarhi falls — said a notification issued in 1973 forbade buying or selling of forest land. But the parties had the right to petition higher authorities.

Neither Arundhati nor her husband — contacted at their Delhi residence — were available for comment.

Arundhati’s is a familiar face in Madhya Pradesh because of her close ties with the Narmada campaign. Soon after winning the Booker in 1997, she joined Patkar’s fight, saying the Narmada dam was a “fault line” between the rich and the poor. She was opposed to big dams because there was no policy to rehabilitate the oustees, she said.

Big dams were not just big projects but had to do with “big politics” and a faulty decision-making apparatus, she said. She wondered how India --- the third largest dam builder ---did not generate power enough for 85 per cent rural households.

She also trashed the government’s focus on providing irrigation water, saying that of the 200 million tonnes of food grain produced, only 12 per cent needed irrigation.

The need of the hour was “intellectual rigour”, she said. She wasn’t interested in merely mobilising people for anti-dam rallies but would be happy if even 50 really understood the Narmada issue. In that case, they would become 50 real warriors.

“I went there and became a mad molecule floating around,” Roy once said after an agitation on the Narmada banks.