The land, scattered along the banks of the holy river in Jansath tehsil of Muzaffarnagar district, was under encroachment for several decades, sources in the Union Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation here said.

Land mafia allegedly began to encroach upon the flood plains by forging land records and got the plots transferred in the names of private individuals.

"Thereafter, these plots adjacent to the river stream were converted into private land and cultivation started to take place there," sources said, adding that this led to increased pollution of the river due to use of fertilisers.

The land, sources said, was freed from encroachment recently following the intervention of the Muzaffarnagar district administration. Before being encroached upon, the land was with the state forest department and under gram sabhas.

"Of the 6,000 hectares of land, 4,400 hectares has been recovered so far. Process is underway for recovering the remaining encroached land as well," sources said, adding that cases have been registered against 175 individuals in this regard.

The Union Water Resources Ministry has now begun planting saplings on the reclaimed land as part of the afforestation drive on the banks of Ganga.

According to sources, Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti, who visited the area last week, has said that Below Poverty Line sections would be involved in the afforestation efforts.

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