On January 18-19, 2006, the administration and the municipal authorities of Sawai Madhopur district in Rajasthan demolished 25 illegal properties around the Ranthambore national park. These properties had violated the Rajasthan Land Revenue Act, 1956.
The structures razed included Anokhi, a shop run on the premises of Fateh Singh Rathore, a former forest department official; Karigar, another establishment on his property; the White House, a guesthouse run by his son, Goverdhan, and daughter-in-law, Usha.
Another property allegedly in the possession of Goverdhan Singh, a number of shops, eating joints and a farmhouse owned by Bharat Kapur, based in Delhi, were also pulled down.
“We had identified a total of 32 structures that were violating section 90 (a) of the Land Revenue Act,” says additional district magistrate Vishram Meena. The section bans commercial activities on designated agricultural land unless a change of land use is first obtained from competent authorities.
“We were getting a lot of complaints about agricultural land being used for non-agricultural purposes,” says Meena. “Many had undertaken illegal commercial activity within 500 metres of the forest area,” reveals another administration official. “Two months back we decided to undertake a survey. A committee headed by the naib-tehsildar of the revenue department was formed,” Meena added.
The survey revealed numerous violations. In December 2005, the authorities issued notices to owners of 88 properties. Owners who had obtained land use change submitted their papers. Subsequently, in the first week of January, final orders were issued to demolish 32 properties without requisite documents. Many local residents have welcomed the demolitions.
The guesthouse run by Goverdhan Singh and his wife is widely advertised on several wildlife tourism websites. But it apparently did not have a change of land use clearance and was demolished. When Goverdhan Singh and Padmini Rathore (Fateh Singh’s daughter) tried to intervene, they were arrested for creating public nuisance.
In December 2002, the state government had passed a directive banning the change of land use for properties falling within 500 metres of the forest. Down To Earth had reported that the order was being rampantly flouted (‘Got it’, Down To Earth, December 15, 2005). All such structures (built within 500 metres of the forest area) were among the first to be demolished in the current drive.
Next in line to be brought down were the shops Anokhi and Karigar. But Fateh Singh, the owner of the shops, managed to get a stay order against the demolition of a school named after him. “In any case the administration was not planning to take any immediate action against the school on humanitarian grounds,” Meena said. “Fateh Singh had stated in his application for grant of this piece of land that he will use it for ‘social forestry’. Renting out a shop for about Rs 50,000 per month, running a commercial establishment, selling 7.5 hectares to the Oberoi group and running a school which charged between Rs 900 to Rs 1200 per month can hardly be termed as social forestry,” says an official. Fateh Singh said that he was being targeted for exposing the poaching in the national park and for taking on the authorities on this issue.
Drive to continue
Authorities are investigating other properties whose status is unclear. For instance, a notice was also issued to the well-known conservationist Valmik Thapar, who owns two properties. The survey by the district authorities found that no change of land use had been taken for these. “On one property, he is doing animal husbandry, which is allowed.
The other property has apparently been leased out to an organisation called Dashtkari Kendra. We have now issued notices to this organisation asking them for clarification on the change of land use issue,” says an official.
“This is only the first round of action that we have taken,” says Meena. In fact, under the second phase of the drive, the municipal authorities have issued notices to 34 properties including hotels, resorts and eating joints. The list includes a hotel owned by the Taj group, Tiger Villa, The Bagh Palace, Tiger Safari, Park Resort, Hill View and Rajputana Resort. “A number of hotels to whom notices were issued have voluntarily removed all encroachments or corrected the other irregularities and informed the authorities of the same,” says Meena. These include Tiger Den, Dev Vilas, Hill View and Tiger Moon. Such actions against violators will be taken regularly, says Meena.
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