LUCKNOW: If former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav had found time to read the report submitted by a former IFS (Indian Forest Services) officer, pointing to the "loot of more than one lakh hectares of forest land" in Sonbhadra, the July 17 massacre of tribals may not have taken place.
In early 2014, the then chief forest conservator (land records and Bandobast) A.K. Jain, had carried out a large scale investigation of usurped forest and tribal land in Sonbhadra.
He prepared a report in which he exposed a massive loot of forest and government land by a nexus of bureaucrats-politicians and mafia.
More than one lakh hectare of forest and government land has been illegally sold off to individuals, trusts and societies.
In many cases, the mentioned land had to be legally given to Dalits and tribals working on it for generations, but it was denied to them and was registered in names of 'outsiders'.
Jain submitted the 70-page report to the state government and recommended a CBI probe in the matter as it involved many top officers and influential people.
The report estimated that the revenue loss made to the state exchequer by illegal control of forest land amounted to more than Rs 40,000 crore.
The report further said that it was not just looted of the precious jungle land but also a gross violation of the rights of marginalised Dalits and tribals.
In several cases, the corrupt bureaucracy had used Section 131A of the Zamindari Abolition Act to illegally register the land in name of outsiders.
This was against the basic approach of the amendment, which clearly stated that the ownership of such land would be given to tillers who had been occupying it on or before June 30, 1978.
In several cases, the outsiders were fraudulently shown as old occupants and a large chunk of government and forest land was registered in their names or to the societies and trusts floated by them.
The report, however, gathered dust and the Akhilesh government did not even take note of the problem.
As the report was quietly buried, A.K. Jain was transferred to Agra. He died in a road accident last year and his family suspect foul play in his death.
A senior officer in Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's secretariat said that senior officers were also unaware of the report since it had never been discussed.
"Had it not been for the Sonebhadra massacre, the loot of government land in the region would not have caught attention. The Chief Minister has ordered a probe and an additional chief secretary-level officer has been asked to look into all land deal after Independence. The A.K. Jain report will also be a part of the investigations," he said.
Incidentally, in Sonbhadra, where 10 tribals were massacred on July 17, the land was first registered in the name of society.
Then in 1989, it was transferred to an individual, who in turn sold it off to a third party in 2017.