Operation land grab in Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary

Lalit Shastri

The last Report on the Status of Forest in India talks of maximum depletion of forest in the Tribal districts

There is continuous threat to forests on account of reckless firewood and minor forest produce collection, grazing, illegal mining and forest fires

More than 59,000 sq kms has been assigned under the Forest Rights Act of 2006 – This is besides the large area of forest land assigned for Community Forest Rights

Forests are badly threatened by problem of encroachment as people are continuously and illegally clearing and occupying forests – they have done this to grab as much land as they could while successive governments continued to legalise encroachments and now one finds people are also encroaching upon forest land to demand compensation whenever there is a move to relocate villages by compensating the affected population

In the immediate vicinity of Bhopal, the capital of the Central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh, is Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary. It falls in the Raisen district and has one of the finest teak forests

The sanctuary is spread over 890 sqkm in Bhopal-Raisen forest division of Madhya Pradesh.

The sanctuary has a population of nearly 50 tigers and the movement of a number of tigers has been reported in the extended forest area touching the southern periphery of Bhopal in the Kolar- Kerwan zone defined by the two manmade dams and reservoirs.

As a preparatory move before Ratapani gets declared as a Tiger Reserve, the State Forest department has prepared a scheme to relocate 10 villages that are inside the Ratapani Sanctuary. These villages include Jhiri Baheda, Javra Malkhar, Surai Dhaba, Neelgadh, and Dhunwani.

During a road journey to Ladkui village in Nasrullaganj Tehsil of Sehore district via Kolar dam in the later part of 2018, one was astonished and shocked to see a large area of forest on fire. The villagers had confirmed that the fire was manmade and a regular feature in that area. Behind it were those who wanted to encroach and grab more and more forest land and illegally bring it under agriculture.

On getting the lead that forest land was being progressively encroached in the Ratapani Sanctuary, especially near villages identified for relocation, one drove to Jhiri Bheda to assess the situation on the ground. On driving a few kilometers of the dirt track inside the sanctuary the other day, one came across a forest department team, including senior officials, that was also there for the same purpose.

The forest officials asserted that there has been no felling of trees. Only an attempt has been made “by some one” to encroach on forest land by ploughing a piece of land for cultivation and the problem has been nipped in the bud.

As it rained heavily that day, one carried out the investigation a few days later. Driving a few kilometers on the dirt track and after a short treck one came to an open forest land where a large a big chunk of land had been plouhed.

A forest department personnel, who came with us, asserted that no tree has been cut in that area. When his attention was drawn to stumps at a distance, he said we should treet them as snag and and nothing more than woody debris.

On going closer, one found that many trees had been chopped or axed and there was an attempt to burn the stumps. All this to expand the area under encroachment.

Jhiri Bheda is a test case but it says a lot…..

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