PUNE: Rough estimates from the Pune forest division have revealed that nearly 500 hectares of forest land, mainly in , Indapur, Baramati, Haveli, Maval, and Mulshi talukas, has been encroached upon.

A recent survey conducted by the forest department in Indapur and Baramati found that another 100 hectares has been encroached upon by locals.

The department is in the process of recovering this land. Over the past few months, the department has reclaimed around 260 hectares from villagers, who were not the rightful owners.

official told TOI that the forest land was earlier under the revenue department’s control.

“Before the 1980s, the collector had the powers to distribute the land to the locals. We have started surveying the forest land to find instances where locals are claiming possession over more land than what was given to them,” he said.

In the absence of vigilance in the years since, people began using more forest land than what was legally given to them, the official said. “Once we surveyed the areas, we came to know that a lot of land actually belongs to the forest department and has been illegally under the possession of the locals. We are surveying every village in these blocks (especially Indapur, Daund and Baramati) to get an idea about the land under encroachment,” the official added.

The forest department is also preparing maps of the surveyed areas, which are later shown to people in illegal possession of the land.

“Locals who have unauthorized possession of the land, but still do not want to part with it, are then evicted. As we continue the survey, more land is expected to come back into our possession,” he said.

The officials are meeting those who are staking a claim to the land. “The land in possession of the locals before 1980 is left as is, while any stretch that has been occupied illegally since is reclaimed by the forest department. The area belonging to the forest department is marked on the map and locals asked if they dispute our claim. If they show us records of ownership of the land, we leave the land with them. Otherwise, we declare them as encroachers,” another official explained.

He said 100-odd hectares in Indapur and Baramati are likely to be reclaimed by the forest department this month from Indapur and Baramati.

“So by this month, over 360 hectares will be in the possession of the forest department. An additional 500 hectares is likely to be in the possession of encroachers in the six blocks, which too will be reclaimed gradually,” the official said.

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