Regional

Himachal fails to demarcate 54% of forests: CAG

Punjab News Express
SHIMLA : Himachal Pradesh has not been able to demarcate 54 per cent of its forest area in 28 years and there are over 15,000 cases of encroachments despite high court strictures, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has said.

It said there was encroachment of 9,545 hectares of forest land involving 43,086 cases in the state till March 2016.

These facts came to light in an audit of records relating to encroachment of forest land from 2013 to 2016 conducted by the CAG.

It observed that against 20.63 lakh hectares forest area targeted to be demarcated, 11.04 lakh hectares (54 per cent) had not been demarcated even after lapse of more than 28 years.

A total of 15,409 cases of forest land encroachments involving 3,572 hectares were pending in revenue and forest courts till March last year.

Fencing work of the vacated forest areas could not be carried out and Rs 46.76 lakh towards cost of fencing was not recovered from encroachers in accordance with directions of the state High Court, the CAG said in a report tabled in the assembly session.

Out of 35.91 lakh hectares of forest area owned by the forest department, 9,545 hectares of forest area valued Rs 640 crore involving 43,086 cases was encroached upon till March 2016.

Of this, 3,921 hectares involving 18,854 cases valued at Rs 263 crore had been evicted by the department, whereas 5,624 hectares of forest area involving 24,232 cases valued at Rs 377 crore was still in the possession of encroachers till March last year.

Even the CAG observed encroachments in reserved forests.

The report said 222 hectares of reserve forest land was encroached by offenders (871 cases) till March 2016. However, damage reports were issued only in 233 cases involving 83 hectares of encroached land.

It also picked holes over lapses in registration of criminal cases against the encroachers.

The high court ordered in February 2016 that FIRs (first information reports) should be registered in all cases of encroachments on forest land within eight weeks from the date of order.

In the test-checked divisions, it was noticed that FIRs were not registered in 3,872 cases involving encroachments of less than 10 bighas, measuring total 793 hectares as of June 2016.

The department attributed non-registration of FIRs to staff being busy in eviction process of encroachments.

Official sources told IANS that expressing anguish over improper compliance of its directive about removing encroachments mostly by fruit growers' on forest land, the high court in March last year directed the state government to act in the letter and spirit of the order.

A division bench of Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan had said any departure from the directions shall be dealt with in terms of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971.

Observing that the orders passed by the court were not followed as expected, the judges said a specific reference was made in the order dated July 27, 2015, to prune the apple trees.

Besides clearing the encroachment by fruit growers on forest land, the high court had said electricity and water connections of encroachers should be disconnected.

The case of encroachments in forest areas is still pending in the high court.

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