‘3,000 hutments at Sanjay Gandhi National Park will be cleared in a few days with police help’

One of the few national parks in the world that is completely within the municipal limits of a metropolis, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) is plagued by encroachment and man-animal conflict due to its high-density leopard population, mostly on the periphery.

The task of tackling these issues and managing the 104 sq km park is that of Sunil Limaye, Chief Conservator of Forests and SGNP director. In an interaction with The Indian Express editorial staff, Limaye talks of the challenges of managing the wildlife and arresting loss of habitat at SGNP

P Vaidyanathan Iyer: You have mentioned that the main problem the park faces is encroachment. Isn't there a fenced boundary around the park?

Sunil Limaye: The boundary of the park is around 92 kilometers; of which 70 km has to be fenced to avoid encroachments while the other 22 km is natural area like cliffs and rivers so no construction is required. Of the 70 km, 40 km is sensitive area where encroachments exist while the other 30 km is less sensitive. In this 40 km, we started construction in 2007 and have completed about 26 km. The remaining 14 km still has encroachments which need to be cleared and will be constructed in the next 1.5 years. In fact, we have identified 3,000 illegal hutments we will try to clear in the next few days with the help of police. The remaining 30 km (fence) will be constructed in the next 2-3 years.

P Vaidyanathan Iyer: How strong is the political pressure in terms of preventing removal of hutments?

When it is a question of human habitation, political leaders always insist people should not be removed. But the Bombay High Court has categorically said that this is a natural area and encroachments have to be removed. But this is taking time as there are 25,000 families on the periphery of the park. Of these, 13,000 families are eligible for resettlement elsewhere as they have been living here before the cutoff date of January 1, 1995 and have paid money for their houses. However, there are 4,000 to 5,000 who say that they are eligible as well but did not get a chance to pay the money. So now the government has to decide about them. As for the tribals, their issue is different. There are 1,800 such families in 43 hamlets around the park that will probably be given houses on the fringes of the park. It has not been decided yet but we are trying to work it out with the tribal development department.

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