Mangaluru: The forest department demolished an unauthorized dwelling within a forested area, accompanied by a traditional almanac (panchang). Belthangady MLA Harish Poonja swiftly arrived at the scene to support those responsible for the construction. Officials involved in the demolition provided guidance and promptly informed the forest minister. This incident occurred in Kalmanja village, Belthangady.
Harish Poonja has also decided to collaborate with the local community to rebuild a house. During his confrontation with forest authorities, he expressed his intent to construct 100 such houses for the underprivileged and dared them to file a First Information Report (FIR) against him. He even stated his readiness to be in jail, whether for four months or a whole year. Poonja questioned whether the forest department had the right to seize homes and criticized the Range Forest Officer (RFO) for not wearing a uniform.
Poonja urged the Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF) to suspend the Range Forest Officer (RFO) and promptly contacted Forest Minister Eshwar Khandre. Forest Minister Khandre instructed officials to maintain the current situation and encouraged the ACF and MLA Poonja to make a final decision after consulting with senior officials.
He highlighted the plight of around 250 families residing in the area for the past 150 years who have been requesting land title deeds for their properties. He criticized the forest department for obstructing the issuance of these title deeds, working to designate over 6,500 acres of land as forest territory. This has led to harassment for those attempting to build new homes, with one instance involving the vandalism of Devanna’s residence. Poonja urged the state government not to add further hardships to the impoverished residents and proposed a collaborative survey between the forest and revenue departments to ensure the area doesn’t fall under the forest department’s jurisdiction. He suggested that the forest department should issue title deeds through a No Objection Certificate (NOC).