Glare on forest encroachment

Encroachment in Meghalaya's reserve forests has been on the rise, according to a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

By Andrew W. Lyngdoh in Shilong
  • Published 30.04.18
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Shillong: Encroachment in Meghalaya's reserve forests has been on the rise, according to a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Meghalaya's recorded forest area is 9,496 square km of which 1,125 square km comprising reserve and protected forests is under the direct control of the state forest department. The remaining un-classed forests, covering 8,371 square km, are managed and administered by the autonomous district councils of Khasi, Jaiñtia and Garo Hills.

According to the report, the total area encroached in March 2012 was 8,536 hectares, against which 1,136 cases were filed in court. During the audit period, an additional 64 hectares were encroached, increasing the area to 8,600 hectares in March 2017.

The majority of the encroachment was reported in Jaiñtia hills division, 8,088.84 hectares of reserve forests.

The forest department filed 1,223 encroachment cases till March 2017. However, no verdict has come out in any case.

The audit observed the divisional forest officers did not follow up the cases and their position was not being monitored at the directorate level. "The inability of the department to clear these cases had emboldened other miscreants to encroach further into forestland. No action taken by the divisional forest officers under Rule 3 of the Meghalaya Forests (Ejecting of Unauthorised Persons from Reserved Forests) Rules, 1979, was available on record," it the report said.

The report also said communities living on the forest fringes depended heavily on them for wood and fodder.

"Forests are self-sustainable ecosystems. However, due to pressure of increasing population and relaxed regulations, land outside the protected area has greatly degraded and dense forests outside reserved forests have almost perished," the report said.

The ministry of environment and forests had in 2004 directed that in respect of any fresh occupation of forestland, the state government should hold the deputy commissioner, superintendent of police and divisional forest officer concerned responsible for encroachment and they would be liable for disciplinary action.

Encroachment monitoring committees also had to be constituted at the state, circle and district levels to monitor the status of eviction from encroached land. However, the audit said none of these directives were implemented by the Meghalaya government.