Thursday, May 2, 2013

Land Loot Scam: Realty firm in dock for ‘grabbing’ forest land

HIRCO, which is developing a township in Panvel, has been booked under the Indian Forest Act for encroaching on one acre of forest land

The state forest department has initiated a criminal case against UK-listed real estate major HIRCO for allegedly encroaching on forest land in Panvel. The company is developing an integrated township in the area, where authorities say it has begun illegal construction on a piece of forest land measuring one acre.

The alleged land grab was discovered when officials from the department’s Panvel range carried out a surprise inspection at HIRCO’s township, Hiranandani Palace Gardens, a name derived from the firm’s former association with city’s leading developer Hiranandani Group.

“HIRCO has acquired over 200 acres for their project. When we went to the site, we found that they had cordoned off the entire area, including forest land,” said a senior forest official. “Construction work was in full swing on the protected land.”

Authorities, who conducted a survey of the entire area, have charged the company and its officials with destroying forest and altering boundaries under sections 33 and 63 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927. Like an investigation agency, the forest department has the powers to initiate criminal inquiries against offenders and even arrest them.

The one-acre, or 36-guntha, forest land is located between two land parcels acquired by HIRCO for the township, which will include residential and commercial buildings. About 20 gunthas (an Indian measure for area) of the land is under the control of the forest department, while the rest is with the revenue department.

“The encroached area connects the two land parcels, and the company had begun constructing a bridge there,” the official said. “They had planned to use both forest and revenue land.”

After the forest department initiated a case against them, HIRCO officials applied for anticipatory bail, thereby avoiding arrests. The government will now move court to oppose their bail pleas. “We are in the process of getting the anticipatory bail rejected, so we can go after the accused. For now, we have freed encroached forest land,” Range Forest Officer Anil Parab told Mirror.

A spokesperson for HIRCO refused to discuss the case. “The matter is under investigation and we are fully cooperating with authorities,” the official said.

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