LUCKNOW: The land grabbing in Sonbhadra, leading to the massacre that rocked the country last Wednesday in which 10 people were killed and over two dozen others grievously injured, is just the tip of the iceberg.
The massacre followed a long-standing dispute over a 90-bigha gram panchayat land being cultivated by Gond tribals of Umbha village since independence. As per an estimate, around one lakh hectares of land in Sonbhadra is under the illegal possession of big guns not only from Uttar Pradesh but adjoining states as well since 1987.
Rich in minerals like bauxite, limestone, coal, gold etc, Sonbhadra is known as the ‘energy capital’ of the country. With over 36.5% forest cover, the highest in Uttar Pradesh, it's also one of the most prosperous districts in terms of green wealth.
Moreover, the incumbent government has declared it a prominent tourist destination owing to its scenic beauty and hilly terrain covered with dense forest area. These features draw the ‘high and mighty’ to this district where forest land is easily grabbed as it is populated by the illiterate and socially backward tribal population.
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Sonbhadra attracts land grabbers from other states also as it is the only district which shares borders with four states -- MP, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand. Its dense forest cover once made it the nerve centre of the Naxal movement of eastern UP.
An earlier report produced by a former chief forest conservator in 2014 points out that most of the officers who get a posting in the district, manage to get so much land registered in their name that several generations of their families reap its benefits. This is possible only due to a strong nexus with forest and revenue officers.
The ex-chief forest conservator had even suggested a CBI probe into the Sonbhadra land grabbing but the then government did not react.
Umbha is not an isolated case. Those familiar with Sonbhadra believe that if enough immediate steps are not taken in time, it will be difficult to stop such violence in the future too.
As per forest and revenue sources, around 250 bighas of land are in illegal possession of a politician in Jogendra village under Renukoot division. Similarly, in Silaht village of Sonbhadra, a former lawmaker has got 56 bighas of land registered in the name of his relatives.
In Vardia village of Obra forest division, a man from the Kanungo community got a land registered in his father’s name and later sold it off. In Dhoria village of Ghorawal tehsil in Sonbhadra, an influential figure bought a piece of 18 bighas of land for Rs 90,000 and grabbed much more than that.
As per forest officials, illegal land grabbing by well-connected people in the name of their organisations has been a practice in Sonbhadra. “One lakh hectares comprises around six per cent of the total forest land of the state. Before taking illegal possession of this land, it was declared non-forest land through tampering in the land records much against the provisions of Section 4 of Indian Forest Act- 1927,” says a senior official seeking anonymity.
Subsequently, the land use was changed and it was converted into transferrable land in gross violation of the Forest Conservation Act-1980, so as to sell it off or purchase it conveniently.
Referring to the aforementioned report, state forest minister Dara Singh Chauhan expressed his ignorance but promised to look into it and bring the issue to the notice of CM Yogi for necessary action.