10,000 acres of Water Resources Department land encroached

Drive to reclaim encroached land begins

The Water Resources Department (WRD) has launched a drive to reclaim encroached land at its project sites across the State.

Of the land acquired by the department for various major and minor irrigation projects, an estimated 10,000 acres have been encroached upon over the years. While the total land acquired by the department over the decades is not clear, it runs into lakhs of acres.

The drive has a twin objective - one to recover the land rightfully belonging to the WRD and also to hand over some of the recovered land to the forest department in lieu of the green cover that would be lost due to submergence of forest land in upcoming irrigation projects.

The State has as many as 138 major and minor irrigations projects. Of these 60 projects are complete and the remaining 78 are ongoing. The projects are executed by three main special purpose vehicles—Karnataka Neeravari Nigam (for executing projects in Krishna basin), Cauvery Neeravari Nigam (for projects in the Cauvery basin) and  Krishna Bhagya Jala Nigam (Upper Krishna based projects).

An internal survey by the department found that tracts of land, which had been acquired for different projects, had been encroached. Of the 10,000 acres estimated to be encroached, a majority of the land was found to be along Narayanapur, Kembhavi, Hemavathi, Hidkal, Naviltheertha, Thipargi, Gorur projects among others, official sources said.

They also point out that the recovery drive is only pertaining to land acquired by the department, which were later on encroached. It does not cover the huge tracts of land encroached along valleys and river beds.

The department started the recovery drive two and a half months ago and at present around 6,500 acres of land is under various stages of recovery, the sources said. Lack of proper record keeping and sometimes negligence led to the encroachment. In some cases, vacant buildings used by engineers and staff during the execution of the projects were found to be illegally occupied.

Special officer appointed

WRD has now appointed a special land acquisition officer to monitor the recovery process. Services of retired land acquisition officers are being obtained by the three irrigation corporations for guidance. The recovered land is being registered in the name of WRD.

As per the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, whenever forest land is to be diverted for non-forestry purpose an equivalent non-forest land has to be provided for compensatory afforestation. WRD plans to part with a portion of the recovered land for afforestation process. Several of the irrigation projects require forest land. For instance, the proposed Mekedatu drinking water project at the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu boundary will result in submergence of around 2,000 acre of forest land.

The department has started maintaining a project-wise property register to prevent future encroachment.

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