Officials with the forest department who tried to demolish illegal structures on forest land in the Mumbra-Diva belt were abused and threatened by local MLA Jitendra Awhad and his supporters, states a letter written by Suresh Thorat, chief conservator of forest in Thane in 2011.
The letter has surfaced after the collapse of an illegal building in Mumbra, which raised questions about why officials have not been taking action against illegal structures in Thane.
Another letter by Thorat's subordinate alleges that the encroachers warned forest officials that their lives would be in danger and their women family members would be raped.
State forest minister Patangrao Kadam said he has asked forest secretary Pravin Pardeshi to investigate the matter. "Action will be taken after that. I have told officials to take action against encroachments and not bow to pressure."
A dispute has arisen between Thane civic body and the forest department about the ownership of land. In the letter, Thorat alleged Awhad called him up on June 11, 2011, used foul language after he launched a drive against encroachments in Gotheghar and Daighar on June 6. Two days later, Awhad summoned Thorat to his office and warned him against taking action.
Another letter written by Thorat's subordinate alleges that Awhad's supporters disrupted demolitions at Shil-Mahape road on June 9, 2011. "He [Awhad] visited the spot with a mob of 50 supporters and forced us to stop work," the letter said. It states an encroacher threatened forest surveyor Shri Sakore that if he carried out land survey, women in his family would be raped.
Awhad said the issue is being blown out of proportion by his rivals. "I intervened in the action initiated against structures that have been around since 1980s. As far as threatening officials is concerned, everyone knows mild language doesn't work with them. "80% of constructions in Thane are illegal. That does not mean you demolish all of them."