Urging the forest minister to instruct responsible officials to clarify, the BJP MLA asked the government to stop further surveys before the issues are satisfactorily cleared.
Even as Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh talks tough against encroachment on reserved forest areas and raises concerns about depleting green covers in hill districts, BJP MLA Paolienlal Haokip has questioned revenue and forest survey being conducted in Churachandpur-Khoupum Protected Forest in Churachandpur.
In a letter dated April 12 addressed to Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Th Biswajit Singh, the MLA representing 59-Saikot (ST) Assembly constituency described it as a matter of great public anguish and perceived injustice.
Stating that some revenue and forest officials have been recently deployed to carry out some survey of the “so-called” Churachandpur-Khoupum Protected Forest in Churachandpur, the MLA reminded the minister of a question he raised during the question hour in the Assembly Session.
He had asked in the Assembly whether the state government has nullified the orders of the then Assistant Settlement Officers of the Forest Department excluding certain villages from the proposed Churachandpur-Khoupum Protected Forest of the time to which the minister had replied in the affirmative.
Maintaining that he could not raise supplementary questions as question hour ran out, Paolienlal Haokip said he be allowed to raise the pertinent questions through the letter.
The BJP MLA asked how the state government can nullify such orders of the ASO who by law, in the absence of FSO (vacant as the government failed to appoint one at that time) was the statutory authority to settle any claims of pre-existing rights on land.
“The authority and duties of the FSO/ASO are statutory under the Indian Forests Act, 1927, and doesn’t require the state government to specially authorise, as claimed by the state government in the annulment order,” he said in the letter.
The BJP MLA maintained that the delay in processing of claims cited as a reason for annulment was the fault of the authorities concerned and not of the land owners, and hence cannot be a reason for annulment of the orders excluding lands claimed by Chiefs from the said PE.
“Some delays in submission of claims of pre-existing rights must have been caused by the failure on the part of the government to declare its intent to constitute a protected forest, as required under the Indian Forests Act, 1927, in vernacular, keeping the largely illiterate chiefs of those days in the dark and unaware,” he said.
The BJP MLA said he had earlier asked the PCCF to supply him copies of such information published in vernacular (DoL.Rep.(Forest)/SKT-MLA/05/2022(17) Dated: the 27th May, 2022). However, he has yet to receive any response, he added.
Paolienlal Haokip sought clarification from the Forest Department whether the current exercise of survey teams being deployed is due to the absence of any survey records with the government. If that being the case, it will prove the gazette declaring the Churachandpur-Khoupum Protected Forest is flawed and therefore void ab initio, he said seeking the purpose behind the present exercise.
The BJP MLA also asked whether fresh surveys are being conducted in all such PFs, and if so, the detailed schedule for such surveys. “Unless it is a comprehensive exercise, the present exercise is perceived to be selective and targeted in nature, causing public angst,” he said.
Urging the forest minister to instruct concerned officials to clarify in writing the issues so that he can help the public understand the actions of their government, the BJP MLA requested to stop further surveys before “the issues are satisfactorily clarified”.
It may be noted that chief minister N Biren Singh had reportedly asserted that the Government came to know about the changes in the forest of the hill districts with the help of satellite mapping. The government takes encroachment on forest areas very seriously and will deal it with accordingly, he had in a book release event.
The chief minister also disclosed that a process is underway to digitalize the land and revenue records.
The Biren-led BJP government has been going all out against encroachers of forest land. At least 29 houses were demolished inside Langol Reserved Forest on April 11, 2023. On February 21, 2023 also, K Songjang village was evicted from the Churachandpur-Khoupum Protected Forest as Google map showed no settlement in the area in 2020.