8,000 hectares of Punjab’s forest land in illegal occupation, govt drags feet
MOHALI : Nearly 8,000 hectares of Punjab’s forest land is in the possession of illegal occupants with the state government dragging its feet on framing a policy on its demarcation and afforestation, the 2019-20 audit report of the accountant general (AG) has pointed out.
These encroachments are causing huge revenue losses to the state exchequer, says the report which was sent to the additional chief secretary (forest and wildlife) for clarification.
Despite the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s 2018 decision to transfer the land to the forest department, 8,012 hectares still remains occupied by the encroachers, the report adds.
The revenue department had received ₹116.77 crore for the purchase of non-forest land for compensatory plantation from the financial year 2013-14 to 2018-19, but it spent only ₹10.84 crore till 2013-14 for procurement of land for afforestation, it says.
The chief conservator of forests’ records showed that 5 out of 16 divisions did not have continuous working plans between 2016-17 and 2018-19.
The annual reports of the Punjab State Financial Development Corporation (PSFDC) for 2013-14 to 2018-19, revealed that the forest department raised loans worth crores of rupees without the approval of the state assembly for office use, which is a contravention of the constitutional provisions.
The report adds that 9,814 hectare of forest land under the jurisdiction of Mohali, Ferozepur and Hoshiarpur wildlife divisions had not been demarcated and the department had not completed legal procedure to mark the boundaries of protected areas. This had led to problems like encroachments, road accidents, man-animal conflict and vulnerability to cattle borne diseases.
UNAUTHORISED CONTROL OVER WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
The audit report says that after the declaration of the wildlife sanctuary in Abohar, the local people started to convert their land (tibbas) into agricultural fields that led to degradation of habitats of endangered species and black bucks were killed by stray dogs.
The people did so as the area in the sanctuary was private in nature.
The failure to transfer the control of the sanctuary to the wildlife wing defeated the very purpose of creating protected areas, it adds.
Additional chief secretary (forest and wildlife) Ravneet Kaur did not respond to calls and messages.
ENCROACHMENTS CAUSING HUGE REVENUE LOSSES TO THE STATE EXCHEQUER IN THE ABSENCE OF A POLICY ON DEMARCATION AND AFFORESTATION OF AREA