More than 700 families rendered Homeless after Amchang Eviction
In the recently conducted eviction drive on 27th and 28th November last in some parts of the Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary, more than 700 families were rendered homeless.
A source in the district administration said, “734 structures, mostly dwellings, were demolished.”
A local resident of the Janasimolu village, Tapan Kumar Das said, “The population of the area is 12,000 and around 720 families do not know where to go now.”
The entire Botahguli area was most affected by the drive. Villages like Garo Basti, Janasimolu, Kailash Nagar, Nabajyoti Nagar and Bogorital were mainly targeted.
The police had to resort to lathi charge and fired tear gas bullets at the residents to control the protest.
Five local residents, two police personnel and a forest ranger were injured during the drive.
Women and children wailed holding their belongings while the men tried, in vain, to block the excavators.
The eviction teams, comprising personnel from various departments, with elephants and excavators, faced stiff resistance in many areas.
370 students of Janasimolu High School were irked with the government as their school was demolished in a fraction of minutes. The students were preparing for their exams slated next month.
Only two commercial establishments demolished
Though the Deputy Commissioner of Kamrup Metro M Angamuthu claimed on 28th November that the next day (29th November) only commercial structures will be targeted, only two commercial establishments were demolished on the third day.
A source in the district administration said, “SM Cements and KD Cokes located at Jorabat were demolished on the third day.”
Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary, situated in the state’s Kamrup District, was declared a wildlife sanctuary by the state government in 2004 by putting together the Amchang Reserve Forest, South Amchang Reserve Forest and Khanapara Reserve Forest.
Talking about the bias of the government towards commercial establishments, member of the Committee for Protection of Land Rights of Indigenous People of Assam, Ajoy Dutta said, “The team waited for three hours in the morning before starting the eviction drive against the commercial establishments in Jorabat.” He added that the team was waiting so that the businessmen could avail a stay order from the court.
Dutta said that Amchang covers forest land from Khanapara to Panikhaiti including Jorabat, Sonapur and other adjacent areas and during the Congress regime, Pradyut Bordoloi and other Congressmen allowed many business establishments to settle on the forest land from Khanapara to Sonapur.
There are many coke ovens, cement factories, resorts and a private university established in the Amchang forest areas since a long time. Only the houses of indigenous people are targeted and not the commercial establishments, Dutta opined.
A source in the district administration revealed that while demolishing the SM Cements factory at Jorabat, it was noticed in the backyard of the factory that the course of a small waterfall rivulet was altered and brought within the factory boundary so that the water requirements of the factory could be met.
Forest dept clueless about area encroached in Amchang
President of the wildlife NGO, Early Birds, Moloy Baruah, revealed that the Department of Environment & Forests was clueless about how much land had been encroached in the Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary till 2013.
Baruah said, “Early Birds had filed two RTIs, one in 2008 and one in 2013. The replies clearly revealed that the forest department had not demarcated the sanctuary and were providing baseless information.”
To the reply of the RTI filed in 2008, the forest department said that 8.50 sq km forest land was encroached out of 70.64 sq km land under forests.
In 2013, in reply to the same query, the forest department said 5.50 sq km was encroached. Baruah said that the forest department, between 2008 and 2013, did not carry out any eviction drive. So the figures provided were imaginary.
Baruah said that according to the Wild Life Conservation Act 1972, the forest department is mandated to demarcate the forest area and check that the designated area is not encroached.
Later, Early Birds wrote to the Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court who, taking suo moto cognisance, registered a case and after 17 hearings ordered eviction on 2nd August 2017.
The forest department had to demarcate the sanctuary under the supervision of Gauhati High Court. According to a forest department source the new demarcated map of the sanctuary reveals that there are 1,382 encroached settlements with a population of 7,000 people.
Early Birds seeks high level inquiry into Amchang forest ‘scam’
Raising questions about how so many people could encroach on the forest land, Early Birds asked the Chief Minister of Assam to order a high level probe to find out why the forest department had allowed encroachment in Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary.
“The forest officials had taken money and allowed the commercial establishments to set up factories on the forest land,” said Early Birds president Moloy Baruah, adding it was a huge forest land scam where even politicians were involved.
Baruah revealed that even the illegal settlers were brought in to the forest by politicians like Bharat Narah and money was invested to construct RCC buildings.
The survey was done by officials of forest and revenue to demarcate the sanctuary and the pillars were erected according to the convenience of the encroachers by taking money.
A source in the district administration said that land papers shown by the illegal settlers during eviction were fake and created with the help of a nexus who had links in the forest department and the Dispur circle office.
Many residents of Amchang claimed that they had purchased the land and have proper papers.