Forest Department in Maharashtra illegally occupies land belonging to farmers, leaving them with no source of livelihood.
Bhulashi is a predominantly agricultural village in the district of Satara, and many families living there have been tilling the land since 1972. As landless-farmers mostly belonging to Scheduled Caste communities, many of them received some land under the state government’s Karamveer Dadasaheb Gaikwad Sabalikaran and Swabhiman Yojana. The scheme was launched in 2004 and entitles persons from Below Poverty Line (BPL) families in Scheduled Caste communities to a minimum of six acres of agricultural land on a subsidy and a loan without interest. Alternatively, they are entitled to the corresponding amount of money. But today, 300 people in Bhulashi have no land to their names because of the Forest Department’s illegal land grab.
“Our crop was flattened by their machines,” says one farmer, adding that for a bribe amount of 2000-3000 rupees, the forest guards are willing to overlook the wrong-doing by the department officials. Rameshwar Surkunde, another farmer who has lost his land, says that the land was their only source of income.
When Community Correspondent Radhika Chincholikar visited Bhulashi, she made a list of the land ownership documents that the aggrieved farmers had. The documents comprised licenses, notices and survey reports from the Collectorate, the Revenue Department and the village accountant. Ignoring such concrete proof of land ownership, the Forest Department mowed down the crops and dug deep trenches in the land, rendering it unsuitable for farming.
Standing in one of these trenches, another farmer who lost his plot of land says that the Forest Department paid no heed to them. “How do we live now?” he asks. Radhika, along with 50-60 farmers, decided to approach the Forest Department Officials, the Collector and the Revenue Officer.
“I met an official of the Forest Department 2-3 months ago with some of the farmers but he refused to go on camera and said that this was the Revenue Department’s concern”, says Radhika. “This week, we are going to the Collector to seek compensation for the land grab and to initiate a complaint against the non-cooperative Forest Department official.”
It is unclear why the department has occupied the land. Across the country, land grab at the behest of the state and the corporates continues unchecked. Many state governments, including Maharashtra, acquire land and create land banks which makes it easy to transfer land to private investors. Under the Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013, the state can acquire land for ‘public purposes’ without consent. The law also allows the state to give the land to a private investor later.
In the case of Bhulashi, officials have ignored the allegations of land grab by the farmers. The farmers have not been told why and under what law the Forest Department destroyed their crop and their land. Data journalism group Land Conflict Watch records 26 ongoing land conflicts in Maharashtra, with 4,73,256 people affected.
Needless to say, it is the poorest who are worst affected. Maharashtra saw 700 farmer suicides in the first half of the year itself. In June this year, Community Correspondent Maya Khodve reported on the Maharashtra government’s land acquisition from 3000 farmers for the development of the Mumbai-Nagpur highway. Neeta Pawar, one of the affected farmers retorted to what was touted as the Chief Minister’s dream project by saying that it is being built by crushing hers. In Bhulashi, 300 affected people wait for an explanation and compensation, while the state quashes their only source of livelihood.
To ensure that the farmers of Bhulashi are fairly compensated, call the District Collector of Aundh at +91-02456221701 and urge him to act against the Forest Department and compensate the farmers.
Article by Alankrita Anand