On March 11, about 250 forest officials were attacked by the encroachers while launching a drive to remove encroachments here
In the backdrop of recent attacks by encroachers in the forests of Burhanpur, the district administration fears that at least 60,000 hectares (ha) or nearly a third of forest land must be under their possession.
The officials claim that the massive encroachment on forest land threatens the ecosystem, wildlife and livelihood of the villagers.
Also read: Gairan land encroachment in Maharashtra: Official surveys do not always show the real picture, say those affected
On the morning of March 11, 2023, about 250 forest officials were attacked by the encroachers while launching a drive to remove encroachments in the forest area. The incident left 13 hospitalised and left about 15 others with minor injuries.
Anupam Sharma, divisional forest officer, Burhanpur, told Down To Earth:
While launching an anti-encroachment drive, a mob armed with guns, cross-bows, slingshots and other weapons attacked us. As forest officials, we are not armed and had to face the direct brunt of their heavy force.
Sharma said the Burhanpur forest division has about 0.190 million ha of land under its jurisdiction. “According to the official records about 50,000 ha was encroached in 2016 alone and it is estimated that another 10,000 ha been lost in the past seven years,” he said.
Encroachments are mainly carried out by residents of Bakdi and accomplices of relatives from surrounding districts, Sharma added.
“The forest is under threat as the locals cut down trees from Bakdi, Siwel, Saikheda and others. Their next target is Ghagharla where the incident took place on March 11,” he said.
The official said it is not the first time such an attack has occurred. The incidents have happened for the past six months as the officials have attempted to repossess the territory. “But it is the first time that such a massive attack was launched against the officials. The mob was of at least 300 people,” he said.
Sharma said about three days ago, an unconfirmed report stated that a batch of policemen was also physically assaulted.
Encroachments here pose a serious threat to wildlife, such as tiger, leopard, sloth bear, striped hyena, jungle cat, black buck, sambar, nilgai and others.
“Besides, the biodiversity is vulnerable; groundwater recharge will be severely affected due to cutting of trees and the villagers will be deprived of the minor forest produce which they highly rely on for sustenance,” he said.
The villagers called the district administration for help, citing the threat from encroachers. But the exercise turned futile as the encroachers ended up attacking the government officials.
Also read: Why the land and mining mafia in the Aravallis can’t be touched
They have encroached on the entire district, said Umakant Patil, a resident of Ghagharla.
Patil said the encroachers are depriving the villagers of forest produce such as honey and flowers, displacing wildlife, as well as creating environmental issues. “They are also known for poaching and hunting, but the count is unknown,” he said.
The incident has created a law and order situation. “The unarmed officials are helpless and external assistance will be required to resolve the issue by intervention at the senior level,” Sharma said.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.