Amchang evicted residents seek new survey and demarcation
• Amchang residents say no talks of rehabilitation with the government
• They claim that authorities of both the forest and revenue department say that the residential area falls under their jurisdiction
• The locals continue to live there in temporary houses after their houses were demolished
• The residents have demanded a proper survey and demarcation of land
• Govt officials say the area was already declared as a reserved forest in 1953
• No need for a fresh survey: officials
• The students of Jansimalu High School, which was demolished, are yet to be shifted
Evicted residents of Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary have made a case for a new survey to demarcate the forest area more than a month after their homes were demolished in an anti-encroachment drive by the government.
Some residents said that there was a conflict of opinion between the departments of environment & forests and revenue on the actual area.
“Officials from both the departments have visited us and claim that the area where we live falls under their jurisdiction. They should end the confusion and clearly demarcate the forest land first,” said Tarun Chandra Deka, a resident of the locality who claimed to have lived in Amchang for the past 60 years.
Echoing Deka, Mili Bairagi said that the state government should take a decision on the issue at the earliest.
“We are the ones who are suffering as a result of the lack of coordination between these two departments and because of the government’s apathy towards us. We have nowhere to live and are feeling alienated in our own state,” she added.
Some residents that G Plus spoke to were groping in the dark about their future as the government has not yet firmed up a rehabilitation plan.
Many locals whose houses were demolished in the eviction drive still continue to live in the area in make-shift houses. They say even if they are offered rehabilitation, it is now impossible for them to leave the place as it is the only place they call home.
“While the rest of the state will celebrate Bihu, there will be no celebrations for us this year. Our local MLA did not visit us even once ever since the first demolition drive was carried out. The government authorities have no concern for us and the MLAs only visit at the time of elections to ask for votes,” said Pranjit Bora, a local.
Officials against new survey
A section of government officials said that it was fruitless to conduct a new survey since the encroached region in the sanctuary has already been identified.
“We have already made a digitised map in 2015-16 jointly with the department of revenue. The Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary falls under the jurisdiction of the state forest department and the evictions were carried out against the illegal settlers living inside the wildlife sanctuary area,” informed Paradipta Baruah, Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife).
Officials informed that Amchang was first declared a reserve forest in 1953. It was then converted into Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary in 2004 after combining the Amchang, Khanapara and South Amchang reserve forests.
“Some people argue that the locality was made into a sanctuary only in 2004, but it was originally declared as a reserved forest back in 1953. So whoever has been living after that is an illegal settler,” said an official.
Baruah added that they will follow the Gauhati High Court’s order which very clearly states that those who have settled inside the wildlife sanctuary would have to be evicted.
Students yet to be shifted
More than a month after the demolition drive, the government is yet to decide on the fate of the Janasimalu High School (JHS) in Amchang and the rehabilitation of students.
The students are studying in make-shift tents after the school was razed to the ground during the anti-encroachment drive. The new academic session had also begun from January 8.
“With no school building, we are facing a lot of trouble while conducting classes under tents but we are left with no other option at the moment. We can’t refuse to provide education to students who are willing to study even under such circumstances,” said Kanak Kalita, headmaster of JHS.
He added that currently, classes for students of Grades 6 to 8 were being conducted under one tent with cloth partitions in between. Further, classes for Grades 9 and 10 are held in the second tent. Close to 257 students between Grades 6 - 10 are enrolled in the school.
According to the authorities, the high school was a government-recognised school and they had also received financial aid from the government from time to time for the upkeep of the school.