196 illegal structures on SGNP periphery razed

The forest department demolished Tuesday 196 illegal structures at Ambedkar Nagar and Pimpripada in Malad East on the periphery of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP).

The drive is in keeping with a Bombay High Court order.

"In August and September, we surveyed areas around the park in Malad, Kandivali, Borivali, Dahisar and Mulund and marked unauthorised occupants. We had decided to demolish the hut after Diwali and gave occupants time between November 1 and 26 to show us papers, but none of them did. There was political pressure on us to not act. But these are unauthorised structures not illegible for rehabilitation and we decided to go ahead with the help of police," said Sunil Limaye, chief conervator of forests and director, SGNP.

The drive started on December 1 and so far, 926 huts have been demolished. The forest department has set a target of razing 4,000 huts by December 31.

In November, 300 huts of people eligible for rehabilitation were demolished and they are being provided alternate accommodation.

Encroachments have plagued the park for long, at one time occupying 200 hectares or 2 per cent of its area. Sixty of the 200 hectares have now been removed cleared.

Encroachment is one of the main reasons for man-animal conflict in the park. Human settlements are eating into leopard habitat, forcing the big cats to venture out for food. After completing the demolition, the forest department will raise a boundary wall to keep illegal structures from coming up again.

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