Pune revenue officials approach cops against man who took over 18 acres of forest land using fake ministerial order

The Hadapsar resident had submitted a bogus 2018 order in the name of the then Revenue Minister directing to de-reserve the forest land and transfer its ownership to him.

Pune city police said Saturday that they are in the process of filing an FIR against a Hadapsar resident who allegedly produced fake documents in the name of a former minister and attempted to assume ownership of about 18 acres of forest land estimated to be worth over Rs 200 crores in the market. Revenue officials in Pune had submitted a complaint against the man on Friday.

Baffled district officials have now cancelled the land transfer in the name of the individual identified by the police as P P Shitkal. He had submitted fake documents from 2018 in the name of the then Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil who is now chief of the state BJP unit.

“The documents made us believe that the order was indeed issued by the minister on 31.1.2018 and we had, therefore, transferred the forest land in his name,” Haveli tehsildar Trupti Kolte told The Indian Express on Saturday.

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The tehsildar said the man had produced the order purportedly issued by the minister for the purpose of disforestation or de-reserving the forest land in Hadapsar area. “When I saw the 15-page order, I believed it was issued by the minister because it was written so well and with clarity. The man had also submitted high court citations, documentary proof and other papers. This led us to transfer the disforested land in the name of the individual,” said Kolte.

The fraud came to light when the department approached the ministry for the original order. “The original five-page order issued by the minister had rejected the claim of the individual to de-reserve the forest land. However, the man had produced a 15-page fake order with various details, explanations, precedents, stamp, seal, signature and proofs,” she said. Seeing the order, the district collector too was taken aback by the man’s ingenuity.

“We were really taken in by the way the order was written, explanations provided and precedents cited, which is what made us cross-check with the Revenue Ministry which then provided us a copy of the original order,” said the tehsildar who has now approached the city police.

When contacted, police inspector V S Bahirat said, “We are in the process of registering the FIR against the individual on the basis of the tehsildar’s complaint.”

Kolte said that as per the government’s Ready Reckoner rates, the 18-acre land is worth Rs 65 crore. Its market value could be more than Rs 200 crore, officials said.

“When we asked him why he was submitting a copy of the 2018 order three years later, the man said the delay was because the case was pending in the Bombay High Court and also due to Covid restrictions. This raised doubts,” the tehsildar said.

Kolte said the man had claimed that his ancestors had tilled the land 60-70 years ago and, therefore, its ownership should now be transferred in his name as rightful claimant under the Forest Act.

Range Forest Officer M J Sanas said rules regarding the transfer of forest land have been made stringent after 1980. “The 18-acre forest land is in the possession of the forest department. Since 2015, we have put up fencing around the land and have been taking care of it. Before 1980, the government had transferred some lands in the name of those who had been tilling it for years or those who had been evicted for construction of dams and other projects. However, after 1980 the rules have become stringent and transfer of forest land does not take place that easily.”

Sanas said forest officials have conveyed to the collectorate that the land in question belongs to the forest department and has not been de-reserved.

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