Hundreds of acres of precious forest land have been lost to illegal farmhouses. The forest department has found at least 15 sprawling farmhouses and other such structures inside south Delhi’s Asola-Bhatti wildlife sanctuary.
The sanctuary is home to more than 250 species of plants, 200 species of birds, 150 species of butterflies and 10 species each of animals including nilgai, mongoose, fox, porcupine, hyena and jackal. The 6,814-acre sanctuary is part of the ecologically-critical Delhi Ridge whose destruction means desertification of Delhi, fall in its water table and more pollution.
The department insists this is just a “sample”; the actual number of illegal farmhouses could be more than 50. No construction can take place inside a wildlife sanctuary without the permission of National Board for Wildlife, headed by the PM.
These luxury homes have wiped out more than 400 acres — think 200 soccer fields — of forest land. Two such encroachments take up as much as 90 acres each. An acre of farmhouse land in south Delhi costs around Rs 6 to Rs 40 crore, depending on the location.
Delhi’s environment secretary Sanjeev Kumar told HT: “I have instructed the conservator of forests to act in cases of encroachment.” Action would mean issuing notices, registering cases, eviction and demolition.
In Asola-Bhatti, Delhi’s lone wildlife sanctuary, these farmhouses with gates and huge boundary walls also have approach roads, besides electricity and water supplies.
These structures, owned allegedly by some prominent citizens, violate provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 and Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972 and are liable for eviction according to the directions of the Supreme Court.
The farmhouses must have taken years to come up but no case was ever lodged. Ravi Agrawal, a former member of Delhi’s ridge management board, said, “It is high-value land. No land-grab happens without the government’s knowledge.”
Political compulsions have already allowed Sanjay Colony, a 128-acre illegal settlement housing around 40,000 people, to stay put in the sanctuary despite eviction orders from courts.