Arundhati Roy & Pradip Krishen grab tribal land in MP November 18, 2010 2:53:30 AM Arundhati Roy pretends to be a campaigner for tribal rights. Yet she and her husband are in the thick of a controversy over grabbing tribal land in Pachmarhi. Vivek Trivedi reports Arundhati Roy, the maverick novelist turned activist, who recently was under a raging controversy triggered by her 'seditious remarks' on Kashmir and pretends to be a campaigner for tribal rights is now along with her husband in the thick of a controversy over grabbing tribal land in Pachmarhi. Roy, who during her teenage years had embarked on a homeless lifestyle, staying in a small hut with a tin roof within the walls of Delhi's Feroz Shah Kotla and making a living selling empty bottles, shot to prominence after inking the novel God of Small Things in 1996, which got her the prestigious Booker's Prize 1997. Ever since then, the writer has devoted herself solely to politics, publishing two more collections of essays as well as working for social causes. The novelist has hogged limelight in the last decade for her activities in socio-political plots like Sardar Sarovar Dam project, India's nuclear weapons programme and corruption of power company Enron. However, apart from these socio-political plots, the land plot purchased by Roy's second husband in Pachmarhi, a picturesque tourist destination in Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh has every now and then put the pro-environment outbursts of this writer cum activist's into suspicion. Roy's personality has never been an unknown entity for the denizens of Madhya Pradesh ever since, she bagged the Booker's Prize in the year 1997 and ensured active association with the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), opposing the mega Sardar Sarovar Project in subsequent years. The God of Small Things author, who has earned an image of a passionate activist, fighting tenaciously for bringing justice on social and environmental causes over the years, suddenly decided to fish in troubled waters by making some objectionable remarks on the Kashmir problem recently. "Kashmir should get azadi from bhookhe-nange Hindustan," said Arundhati Roy at a seminar last month, where the Maoists hosted Kashmir secessionist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, which witnessed large-scale protests by Kashmiri Pandits. However, the controversial remarks had failed to impress many across the country and generated flak from socio-political circles. The crusader of environment conservation and tribals' rights also has a link in Madhya Pradesh, which puts her image under a cloud. The land plot purchased by her second husband and filmmaker Pradip Krishen has mired this writer-activist into a long drawn environmental controversy. Krishen had purchased a plot in Bariaam village situated around 7 km from Pachmarhi from a local resident Sharif Ahmed in 1992. The filmmaker had purchased two pieces of land, out of which he sold out one later on and used the second one for constructing a house. The construction work began in 1992 and concluded four years later in 1996. The Bariaam village is located on the main highway to Pachmarhi falls within the Special Area Development Authority's (SADA) jurisdiction. This is also a part of the Pachmarhi wildlife sanctuary and provisions of Wildlife Act 1972 prohibit holding any land title in the area. The Union Forest and Environment Ministry also has declared it as part of an eco-sensitive zone under the Environment Protection Act. Krishen had purchased the land with few others in the year 1992. He completed construction of the house towards the end of 1993, in time for his wedding with Roy in January 1994. In between other buildings also came up in the area from 1993 to 1996. Writer Vikram Seth's sister Anuradha, a forest officer Nishkant Jhadav and a doctor Jagdish Chandra Sharma also owned land in the notified area. In between, the Pachmarhi Special Area Development Authority (SADA) had served a 'stop building' order on Krishen and Arundhati. The couple however hit back and alleged that they were being targeted for opposing a new development plan for the Pachmarhi area in which hotel-building would be allowed at the cost of despoiling the beauty and sylvan backdrop of the gorgeous tourist destination. The SADA notice, served on March 12, mentioned that under Section 16 of the state Town and Country Planning Act, 1973, the land use of Pachmarhi and its neighbouring areas had been frozen. It accused Krishen of building his house at Bariaam without valid permission from the Town and Country Planning Organisation (TCPO) and directed him to stop all construction activity. The notice may well be the precursor to a demolition order. The Forest Department did not lag behind on this issue and local forest officials insisted that Bariaam village had been part of the wildlife sanctuary since 1977. So the plot of land acquired by Krishen violates a provision of the Wildlife Protection Act, amended in 1991, under which no new rights of property can be created in a protected area. However the couple had maintained that Bariaam was a revenue village and it was not in the Army cantonment or within the boundaries of the sanctuary or the national park. A new twist came in the row, as a local Naib Tehsildar from Pachmarhi cancelled the land title change, which had taken place in March 1992, in favour of Krishen. Roy's husband and others soon approached the Jabalpur High Court against the move and challenged the decision of the Naib Tehsildar. The High Court however directed the petitioner to instead appear before the revenue appellate authority, which was SDM in this case. Krishen however told that court that time limit of making an appeal in the case had passed and the court had granted the relaxation in the matter. The order was pronounced in February this year. In compliance with the High Court order, the petitioner has presented an application before the SDO (civil). There is still some room for respite to Krishen and Arundhati, if the SDM's verdict goes against them, Roy, Krishen and the others can file an appeal with Bhopal and Hoshangabad Commissioner Manoj Shrivastva. The verdict Roy and Krishen had got embroiled in the land controversy in 2003 when the local administration claimed their elevated bungalow overlooking twin hillocks and vast rolling greens, was in notified forestland. Then SDM Niyaz Ahmad of Pipariya had acted upon a complaint filed by Vijay Singh, a tribal that Roy's husband and three others, including Aradhana Seth, sister of writer Vikram Seth, had allegedly encroached on tribal land. Later, Roy's husband and a few others had moved the Jabalpur High Court against the verdict of the local administration. The High Court in its verdict, has rejected the appeal and has asked Arundhati's husband to appear before a sub-divisional magistrate. The order has come four years after the Madhya Pradesh Government had served a notice on Krishen and others for encroaching on tribal land. Pachmarhi in Biosphere Reserve Programme The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has included Pachmarhi in Man and Biosphere Reserve Programme in 2009. The Man And Biosphere (MAB) Programme develops the basis within the natural and social sciences for the rational and sustainable use and conservation of the resources of the biosphere and for the improvement of the overall relationship between people and their environment. It predicts the consequences of today's actions on tomorrow's world and thereby increases people's ability to efficiently manage natural resources for the well being of both human populations and the environment.