The state forest department has not issued final notifications to convert 7.33 lakh hectares of forest land, rendering this land legally outside its purview
The Jharkhand forest department has not issued final notifications to convert 7.33 lakh hectares (ha) of the state’s 19.18 lakh hectare 'protected' forest land, rendering this land legally outside the department’s purview.
The situation has been highlighted in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) report on management of Jharkhand’s forest land, tabled in state Assembly on December 27, 2018.
The report states that because of the failure to issue final notifications, “right of the Department over such land could neither be ascertained nor secured and legalised.”
In Jharkhand (then part of Bihar), 79 per cent of the forests were privately owned until the zamindari system was abolished under the Bihar Land Reforms Act, 1950.
The government took possession of the forests for control and protection, and issued preliminary notifications under Section 29 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, between 1952 and 1967. These lands included both private protected forest lands under Bihar Private Forest Act, 1947, as well as other unclassified forest lands.
However, the CAG audit found that the Jharkhand forest department has not maintained original records of these preliminary notifications. “The audit was confined to scrutiny of the 86 preliminary notifications produced by the Divisional Forest Officers of the 12 audited divisions,” the report notes.
The state government did appoint Forest Settlement Officers (FSO) between 1955 and 1967 to issue final notifications for conversion; however, the report notes that there was no timeline fixed for the final notification after preliminary notifications were issued.
“Not a single final notification has been issued in 65 years of issue of preliminary notification by government,” says the report says. It attributed this to the failure in completing the necessary ground work for final notifications like processes of demarcation of forest land, authentication of maps, exclusion of non-forest lands, preparation of draft notification for notifying forests by the FSOs.
This has created ambiguity in land records of the land revenue department and resulted in encroachments on forest area, sale and purchase of forest land as well as unauthorised use of forest land, says the report.
In addition to this, the report also found that 3,576.36 ha forest land was excluded from forest demarcation, without sufficient supporting documents. The department could not produce any authenticated maps, draft notification for de-notification etc.
Thus, the report notes, “release of 3,576.36 hectare forest land without supporting documents exposed the department’s unpreparedness to safeguard the forest land.”
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