Survey to settle claims on Aarey’s newly notified forest begins | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

Survey to settle claims on Aarey’s newly notified forest begins

ByPrayag Arora-Desai
Jul 05, 2023 01:00 AM IST

The state forest department in Mumbai has started a survey to settle claims on the reserve forest in Aarey Colony, which was notified in 2020. The settlement process has been delayed for over two years, but is now underway, with claims from tribal residents and individuals who use the land for various purposes. The findings will be submitted to the forest settlement officer, who will decide whether any areas should be excluded from the final notification of the reserve forest.

Mumbai: The state forest department has initiated a survey to settle claims on the reserve forest, notified in 2020, in Aarey Colony.

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The Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government had notified 800 acres of uninhabited green cover in Aarey—which is spread over an area of 3,180 acres— as a ‘reserve forest’ under the Indian Forest Act (1927).

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The process to declare a particular area as a ‘reserve forest’ begins by first notifying it under section 4 of the Forest Act, which is followed by the process of settlement of any rights that other parties may claim over the land under sections 6 to 19 of the Act.

After these claims are settled, some portion of the land may be excluded from the final notification of declaration of reserve forest under section 20 of the Act. Claimants, whose rights were not recognised, can make appeals before the Mumbai suburban collector.

After the 800-odd acres in Aarey Colony was notified under section 4, the forest department and state government, however, had not moved ahead with the settlement process even after more than 500 individual claims had been received largely from Aarey’s indigenous residents.

Following a delay of over two years, the survey is underway, near the adivasi villages of Gaondevipada, Khambachapada, Maroshipada, Kharagapada, Charan Dev pada, Prajapur pada, Jeevachapada and others.

“We have received between 500 and 550 claims from individuals who are using portions of the forest for various purposes. All of them are tribal residents of Aarey Colony, who are either cultivating the land, using fruit trees or harvesting timber. Only one claim is from Aarey Milk Colony, who owns the Picnic Point Garden. Around half of the garden was declared as forest, but the colony has declared a claim on the total area of 7 acres,” a forest department official said.

“The survey process is underway. Claims from only two villages, Keltipada and Vanichapada, are yet to be assessed. Our findings will be submitted to our head office at Sanjay Gandhi National Park and then to the district sub-divisional officer, who is the forest settlement officer. They will take a call on whether these areas have to be excluded or not,” the official added.

Meanwhile, Bharat Chaudhary, a resident of Kharagapada in Aarey Colony, said, “I have two plots, one where I grow seasonal vegetables like pumpkins and gourds and on another my family grows rice. This portion should be excluded from the forest area so we can continue to use the land. There are at least 18 such individual claims from my village itself. We have also been trying to claim our community rights under the Forest Rights Act, but we were told that this aspect can only be entertained once the final forest area is notified.”

Stalin D, environmentalist and a Save Aarey activist, said, “This process should have been initiated a long time ago. It is curious that the settlement process is now being initiated just months ahead of the election season.”

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