Tribals from six villages claim that, over four decades, the area that was designated as gaothan has been usurped and given away to developers

[box type=”tick”]Yogesh Sadhwani for Mumbai Mirror Posted On Friday, September 30, 2011 at 02:16:42 AM[/box]

Following several complaints by over 2,000 tribal families from Powai that their gaothan land has been sold off by usurpers for profit, the Chief Minister’s Office has instructed the Economic Offences Wing to conduct a probe.

These tribals are from six villages:  Powai, Tirandaz, Paspoli, Tunga, Saki and Kopri. They have alleged that over the last few decades various authorities have played a part in usurping land, designated as gaothan (i.e. land reserved for villages) in 1970. These usurpers then sold off the land to various developers as Powai began to gain popularity as a business and residential hub.

The tribals, in their complaint to the CM a few months ago, have said that till four decades ago they used around 400 acres in the area for cultivating crops or for cattle grazing. Till about the early 80s there was no sign of development in the region, except for the IIT, Bombay campus, which came up in late 50s.

In fact, land records (7/12 extracts) (of which Mirror has a copy) show that vast tracts of the land in the region were declared gaothans in 1971 and changes were made in the 7/12 extracts in March 1974. The documents show that government was the owner of the land and locals were noted as occupiers. This change in documents was done as per the orders issued by the then deputy collector.

“The entire stretch of the land was gaothan,” said Kamlakar Satve, who said his forefathers grew crops on Powai land. Several others from the around him talk how of a childhood spent in fields.

However, their children haven’t been able to enjoy that freedom. As Mumbai’s population grew, interest in Powai increased.

On December 26, 1980, the then tehsilar reversed the earlier order issued by his superior and gave away the land to one Chitranjan Sharma, a local from the area who claimed to have bought the land from a certain Khot family, owners of the land in the pre-Independence era.

“We were all taken by surprise when we got to know about change of land records. We knocked on all possible doors but no one ever gave us a hearing,” said Satve, whose father Motiram initiated the battle to save the gaothan land.

The 50-year-old, resident of Tirandaz gaothan, said that it was only in 1996 that officials started taking note of their complaints.

In 2007, after more than a decade of agitation, locals got what they had been fighting for.

The collector’s office passed an order stating that the land was indeed gaothan land and only locals were rightful owners. However, the order came a little too late as by then most of the land had been sold by the Sharmas to developers.

Barring a few acres, a major chunk of land had already been occupied by high-rises. Nevertheless, the locals rejoiced in whatever little they had managed to take away.

However, immediately after the order, a member of the Sharma family challenged the order with resident deputy collector, who reversed the earlier order and reinstated the land to Sharmas in February 2008.

Tired of the ping-pong game, the tribals then decided to approach the chief minister’s office.

Recently, CM Prithviraj Chavan heard MLA Bala Nandgaonkar – who the tribals had taken their matter to – and ordered a high level inquiry into the matter.

Confirming the task given to them by the CM, Inspector Prakash Chavan who works with the EOW, said, “We have been asked to investigate the case in detail and submit a report to chief minister’s office soon. I have already started work on it.”