M A I N   N E W S

470 villages wrongly marked in forest area
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 10
A blunder obviously committed by officials of the Punjab Forest Department and top revenue authorities of respective districts of Kandi area has become reason for the prosecution of inhabitants of 470 villages in Hoshiarpur, Ropar, Gurdaspur, Nawanshahr districts for the past several decades.

The blunder was ‘‘closing the cultivated areas and habitations’’ of these 470 villages under various provisions of the Punjab Land Preservation Act ( PLPA), 1900.

The cultivated area closed under the act in these villages is 66,166.82 hectares and the areas of habitations 3200.08 hectares, according to a document available with The Tribune. The basic objective of the Act was to prevent the land in the kandi area from erosion.

“Closing of the areas under the Act” means that villagers were neither allowed any construction in their habitation nor any agricultural activity in the fields owned by them.

Admitting the blunder,the document of the Forests Department, which has been prepared at the level of the Financial Commissioner and Secretary to Government of Punjab, Department of Forests and Wildlife Preservation, says: “The cultivated and habitated areas closed under the PLPA, 1900 only because these stood included in the Annual Administrative Reports of the Forest Department”.

That means though there was no forest, these areas were included as forest areas by the authorities concerned thus preventing people of the 470 villages to carry out any worthwhile construction activity in their villages and agricultural activity in the fields of which they were owners.

Interestingly, though by preparing the document, the Forest Department has accepted its “blunder” but provisions of the PLPA were still in operation in the 470 villages. While enforcing the provisions of PLPA, the people are challaned and fined under the provisions of the Forest Act.

The PLPA is enforced by the District Collectors by the issuance of notification. And a proper procedure has to be followed to enforce the PLPA because its provisions cannot be enforced in perpetuity.

The enforcing of the PLPA has to be reviewed from time to time to withdraw its provisions or to reinforce after examining the ground realities in the areas to be covered under it or to be excluded from its purview. Public notice has to be issued inviting claims from people whose areas are to be closed under the PLPA.

As the ground realities in the entire Kandi belt have changed drastically in the past 105 years, there was a need for the respective district collectors to have satisfied themselves fully before notifying the further enforcement of the PLPA from time to time.

The question arises that on what basis the cultivated area and habitations were brought under the provisions of the Act thus denying people the opportunity to earn their livelihood from the land they inherited from their ancestors of the centuries.

Who were officers to report that these areas should be covered under the PLPA? And who will pay the compensation to affected farmers and villagers whose lands and villages were closed under the PLPA.

A senior officer of the Punjab Government said that of course it was a big blunder committed by the officials concerned of the Forest and Revenue Department over the decades.

“ In fact it was an indirect acquisition of land of 470 villages by the State Forest and Revenue Departments by enforcing the provisions of the PLPA for the past several decades”, he added. Farmers affected by the PLPA over the years were certainly entitled for compensation, he added.

Now the government has become active to get these areas released from the provisions of the Act.

The Punjab Government is in the process of the sending the case to the Union Forest and Environment Ministry in this connection.

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