'Neha Madaan, TNN

PUNE: Around 72,463 hectares of forest land in the state has been encroached upon, that has led to several man-animal conflicts over the last few years, and also forest fragmentation.Latest data from the forest department reveals that these encroachments have been consistently on the rise from 2005-06 to 2011-12, while many of them have also intruded into important wildlife reserves such as the wildlife areas of Nagpur, Nasik, Mumbai and Melghat tiger reserve.

Though the current year registered a fall in the extent of encroachment on forest land, environmentalists said that any form of human encroachment on forest land not only further reduces the state's shrinking forest cover but also leads to increasing incidents of man-animal conflicts. Illegal encroachments increased from 41,489 in 2005-06 to 1.24 lakh (124 000) in 2011-12.

A forest official said that encroachments on forest land have increased in all sections of the forest, from wildlife corridors to others parts of the forests after the implementation of the Forest Rights Act of 2006, that recognises the right of scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in forests for generations to occupy forest land.

"People who use forest land for over three generations for agriculture activities while living there have been given the right to continue their occupation on such land. Hoping to stake claim on this land, they continue to encroach on it. The Forest Department cannot do anything in such cases when the rights settlement committee is in the process of settling claims of a community over a patch of forest land," said the official.

He added that the Forest Department undertakes regular checks and removes encroachments from forest areas routinely using its rights under the Maharashtra Land Revenue Code. The official agreed that encroachments upon forest land lead to its fragmentation and increase incidents of man animal conflicts. "The situation has worsened after the forest rights act came into force," he added.
A member of theNational Board of Wildlife, said, "Encroachments also infringe upon adjoining natural water resources in order to implement stream based irrigation. Ultimately, wildlife in the peak of summer deprived of natural water sources migrate from the area and intrude into human habitations in search of water and food.

"He added that some herbivore species also migrate from such forests and intrude into the command area of the nearest irrigation project. "Farmers sustain heavy crop losses due to such migration. From 2007 to 2013, there have been around 83 human deaths and approximately 5,861 (from 2008) livestock loss cases recorded in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra alone. Recent data collected by the Union ministry of environment and forests from different states revealed that 653 persons were killed and 17,062 were injured in the last 10 years in 12 states in incidents of man-animal conflicts". Also, 22,667 livestock have been killed by wild animals, with tigers at the top of the table with 12,286 victims, followed by elephants with 7,691 cases.

Debi Goenka, executive trustee, Conservation Action Trust, Mumbai, said, "Encroachments do not take place next to each other but honey comb through forest areas when isolated patches get encroached upon. The entire forest gets disturbed in the process, as it causes disturbance to wildlife even at a one kilometer distance," she said."Encroachments in Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), for instance, are on the periphery, but it is still detrimental and does not mean that the centre of the park will remain undisturbed by humans. People on the periphery will go inside for firewood, women would go in to wash clothes and disturb waterholes..." added Goenka.
Encroachments during March 2012 - March 2013:

*Nagpur Wildlife Circle: 497 hectares
*Nashik Wildlife Circle: 1,978 hectares
*Mumbai Wildlife Circle: 535 hectares
*Meghat Tiger Reserve: 437 hectares

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