The Revenue Department, Forest Department and the state government are at loggerheads over who owns this piece of land and what should be done with it.

In the name of development The tale of Kadugodis depleting green cover and a land battle@SaveWhitefield/Twitter
news Green Cover Wednesday, November 23, 2016 - 18:47

Imagine a serene piece of land in the outskirts of Bengaluru with a quaint little settlement of people, who never imagined the change the area they lived in would witness. 

After the industrial boom in the late 1980s, this area slowly started becoming the hub of development. Yes, you guessed right. We are talking about Whitefield.

The area saw massive and fast-paced development especially after the IT boom in the late 1990s. With it, industries, population and frothy lakes in Whitefield’s Kadugodi, increased as well. 

All this at a cost – depletion of green cover.

And now a new fight has emerged over a remaining portion of land, a 100 acre plot that has largely been untouched.

The Revenue Department, Forest Department and the state government are at loggerheads over who owns this piece of land and what should be done with it. From the sidelines, many activists are watching to see if a last bit of green cover will also be lost.

The latest development in the land battle

It was just a few days ago, that the Karnataka Legislative Assembly Secretary wrote to the Revenue Department, urging them to allot a 100 acre plot in Kadugodi for construction of a layout for the members of the Legislative Council.

The Speaker, KB Koliwad, had also personally visited the plot.

On November 18, Deepika Bajpai, the Deputy Conservator of Forests, Bangalore Urban, wrote to the Revenue Department’s, Additional Chief Secretary, and V Shankar, the Deputy Commissioner of Bangalore Urban, stating that the area has been classified as forest land and cannot be used for creating a layout.

“There has been a lot of confusion regarding this issue and the legal battles have been numerous. However, when the Supreme Court passed a judgment in 2009, the land was allotted to the state government. We have already filed a writ petition with the Karnataka High Court to ensure that the land comes back into the fold of the Forest Department,” Bajpai told The News Minute.

Where it all began

When one dwells up on the convoluted turn of events related to the land in Kadugodi, it becomes necessary to understand that the issue dates way back to 1896.

On May 29, 1896, an extent of 711 acres of land in Kadugodi that belonged to the King of Mysore, along with the boundary description was notified as government plantation, which according to the law back then was demarcated the area as state forest land. (Rule 9 of Rules 1878 for the Administration of the Forests and Wastelands in the territories of His highness, the Maharaja of Mysore). 

In a notification dated January 7, 1901, the area was declared as state forest under the Mysore Forests Regulations Act (1900) and was later deemed as reserved forest in 1963.

The Chief Conservator of Forests, in 1950, had agreed to release 572 acres and six guntas for community cultivation to the Kadugodi Samuhika Vevasaya Seva Sahakara Sangha. 

“However, this move just granted the farmers permissive possession of the land and not complete legal possession as there was no government order published in the gazette declaring that the land belonged to the Sangha. Hence this land still belongs to the forest department,” Bajpai said.

The Karnataka government’s Commerce and Industries Department acquired 305 acres and 23 guntas, without noticing the nature of the land in 1985 and 1987, under the provisions of the Karnataka Industrial Area Development Act to develop the Kadugodi Industrial Area. 

Also, another 141 acres was handed over to the Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board (KIADB) by the Mysore reserve Police in 1972.

“The 141 acres of land is not the subject matter of any acquisition,” Bajpai said.

Currently, the forest department is in possession of 79 acres and 21 guntas of land. 

Back to the current issue

The 100 acres that the state government now wants falls under this heavily disputed area, as some of the land belongs to the farmers, some has been leased by KIADB to industries and the remaining is with the forest department. 

The state is using a Karnataka HC judgment in 2012, which declared the area as government land and that no land has been granted in favour of any individual or society. This judgment was issued when farmers moved the court asking for possession of the land. 

The court ruling did not specify which department the land belongs to but only stated that the area belongs to the state government. This has created the confusion leading up to the legal battle.

The forest department contests that the land given to KIADB and leased out to industries should be given back to them. It also wants the court to clear the issue of the jurisdiction of the land. 

The other stakeholders

While the legalities seem twisted and the issue has not been resolved, the environmentalists in Whitefield have another story to tell.

“There has been so much confusion over the possession of land and some of the farmers, to whom the land was given to, are now renting out these spaces for parking. Now we can see cabs and buses encroaching up on forest land,” said Vabhav Jain, an environmental activist and a volunteer from the group Whitefield Rising.

He says that Whitefield has very little green cover since the massive scale of development over the years. 

“There is barely any green cover and Whitefield’s pollution levels have increased over the years. Now the Legislative council members want to build luxury homes with swimming pools and walking tracks here. We are supporting the Forest Department as the area needs some green cover and once the land goes back to the Forest Department, strict action can be taken against encroachers,” said another volunteer, Srinivas Reddy.

A detailed explanation of the legal battle

In all the cases filed at the civil courts including the original suits and appeals, the judgment was ruled in favour of the Karnataka government.

In 2002, the Karnataka High Court declared the area as government land and that no land has been granted in favour of any individual or society. 

It gave the state government freedom to take action according to the law. This judgment was also upheld by the judgment.

The then Deputy Commissioner rejected the appeals of farmers for recognizing the land title, as per the court ruling. Further appeals also brought the same result.

The state government issued an order in March 2012 that KIADB must handover the unused portion of land in its possession back to the Forest Department. 

However, a writ petition was filed in May 2012 by Concord India Pvt Ltd, who had leased a certain part of the land from KIADB, stating that since the notification in 1896 was issued by the state government and not the Chief Commissioner as required by the Forest Rules of 1878, the land did not belong to the Forest Department. 

The Karnataka High Court then quashed the government’s order.

In April 2014, the Assistant Commissioner, Bengaluru North, passed an order which directed the Tahsildar of Bengaluru East taluka to transfer Dinnur Colony to the Forest Department. 

It also ordered that the Revenue Department would reserve the right to take back the land from the Forest Department for special purposes like construction of public roads, as per section 71 of the Karnataka Land Revenue Act of 1964.

“The direction in the above order to enter the name of Dinnur Colony is incorrect and reserving liberty to the Revenue Department is without jurisdiction and contrary to the provisions of Karnataka Forest Act 1963, the Forest (Conservation), Act 1980. Only the Supreme Court has the authority to declare an area as not forest land. Hence, we have filed the petition,” Bajpai said.

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