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232-acre forest in elephant corridor converted to revenue land in Bengaluru

232-acre forest in elephant corridor converted to revenue land in Bengaluru
Image for illustration purpose only: Source -pixabay

Along with Bengaluru, a 232-acre forest in the elephant corridor has been converted to revenue land. The area under question is near Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP) and has served as a buffer zone between the increasing metropolis and the decreasing animal habitat.

Approximately 232 acres of forest property in Gulikamale, Uttarahalli Hobli, Bengaluru, have been converted to revenue land and sold to private individuals in a move that might result in enormous corruption and land-grab.

According to property records, the Forest Department was the landowner in 2013-14. The property lot is part of the C&D land authorized by the government in 1934 when the Forest Department received 319.14 acres in survey number 35 and 184 acres in survey number 36. The Forest Department was awarded the title to the land in the register of rights, tenancy, and crops as a result of a court ruling (RTC).

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However, in September 2014, then-Assistant Commissioner Bengaluru South LC Nagaraj issued an order proclaiming the area to be ‘Muffat Gomala’ (free grazing land) of the Revenue Department. As a result, the Forest Department’s khata was canceled.

Many peoples filed petitions for the land title in the days that followed. Later, the Forest Department became aware of the problem. Dipika Bajpai, then Deputy Conservator of Forests for Bengaluru Urban District, reported the attempts to encroach on forest areas in a letter to the Principal Secretary of Revenue Department in 2018.

The letter, sent after the then-Deputy Commissioner failed to respond to her concerns, claimed that the assistant commissioner’s directive had opened the way to ‘mass level corruption. Large size grants have been made, and the land has been distributed to more than 25 persons,’ she explained.

According to another officer, the assistant commissioner never heard the Forest Department’s side of the story. ‘He came to his own decision based on the fact that there was no gazette announcement on the grant of land to the Forest Department,’ he explained.

Dipika’s letter referred to another government directive issued on July 20, 1994, which handed the area to the Forest Department. Noting that funds and resources have been spent over the years to transform the land into a natural forest, she stated, ‘The lands abut Bhootanahalli Minor Forest in Anekal Taluk and are contiguous to BBNP, forming an important corridor to the wild elephants for a stopover during their seasonal migrations from Bannerghatta to Savandurga forests near Magadi and vice versa.’

In response to a question, DCF Bengaluru Urban S S Ravishankar stated that no progress has been made in the subject. ‘We have written to the revenue authorities in accordance with the protocol. We have yet to get an answer,’ he explained.

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According to Bengaluru Urban Deputy Commissioner J Manjunath, encroachment on forest land is a severe issue. ‘I was unaware of this problem until recently. I’ll look into it and take appropriate action,’ he added.

According to another official, the land mafia has struck a death blow to the woods that surround Bengaluru. ‘In these issues, everyone is working together. Crores of rupees are paid for illegitimate land grants based on fraudulent allegations. Wildlife corridors are being converted into plots for gated communities for the wealthy, who put pressure on the agency when a problem arises,’ he added.