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Encroachment in Meghalaya reserve forest on the rise: CAG

 A CORRESPONDENT

Shillong, April 21: The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India for the year ended March 31, 2017, has observed that the encroachment in the reserve forests in Meghalaya has been on the rise.
“The total area reported to have been encroached as on March 2012 was 8,536 hectares, against which 1,136 court cases were filed. During the audit period, additional 64 hectare area was reported to have been encroached rendering the total reported encroached area to 8,600 hectare as on March 2017,” the CAG report stated. As per the report, the majority of the encroachment was reported in Jaintia Hills division (8088.84 hectare).
The Forest and Environment Department has filed 1,223 court cases for encroachment up to March 2017. However, verdict has not been awarded to any of the case. The CAG report states that some of these cases date back to 1990.
The Divisional Forest Officers (DFO) did not pursue the cases sent to the court.
The CAG said, during the audit, the DFOs stated that once a case is filed it is monitored by the departmental lawyer. 
“The inability of the department to clear these cases has emboldened other miscreants to encroach the forest land,” the CAG report stated.
The Ministry of Forest and Environment, in February 2004, directed that in respect of any fresh occupation of forest land, the State government shall hold the Deputy Commissioner, Superintendent of Police and DFO personally liable for such encroachment and that they would be liable for disciplinary action.
The CAG report also stated that encroachment monitoring committees need to be constituted at State, circle and district levels, which are required to meet quarterly to monitor the status of eviction from encroached land.
However, the Meghalaya Government has not implemented these directives.
The CAG report also stated that section 6 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 (with amendments in 1988) provides for regularization of encroached land for forest dwellers, who are continuous possession of forest land prior to October 25 1980, shall be eligible to be considered for settlement of land right.
The CAG report, however, stated that no survey had been conducted to ascertain the rights of the settlers and encroachers.
“In the absence of the information about encroachment prior to October 1980, the Forest and Environment department was not in a position to take up the matter with the Centre for regularization of such encroachment cases,” the CAG report stated.
The audit also observed that three land holding certificates for land within Narpuh Reserve Forest area were issued by the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (JHADC) to private parties.
The CAG report also stated that the Forest and Environment department had not reconciled the reserve forest area in the State with the Land Records and Survey department, and the failure to do so has contributed towards irregular issue of land holding certificates by the district councils.
The report also stated that encroachment leads to fragmentation of the wildlife habitat, resulting in human- animal conflicts. The CAG also stated that encroachment has led to forests becoming highly vulnerable to fires.
The report also stated that during the period 2012-2017, around 8,472 forest fire were reported. 

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Ankur Kalita