Eviction at Amchang – Day 2: Over 500 families evicted without prior notice
“The government has launched the eviction drive in line with a Gauhati High Court order. Encroachment has not only led to destruction of valuable forests, but also triggered serious human-elephant conflicts across the state. Amchang is only one example,” says State Environment Minister Pramila Rani Brahma.
On the second day of the massive eviction at Amchang Forest Reserve, Police on Tuesday resorted to lathi-charge, tear-gas and firing of rubber bullets to dispers
e several hundred protestors in order to carry out the eviction drive.
What is Amchang and how does it concern Guwahati?
The Amchang Forest Reserve shares a boundary with Guwahati city and over 10 sq. km of the 78.64-sq km Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary is currently under encroachment. Amchang is home to 44 species of mammals and 250 avian species, besides varied numbers of reptiles and amphibians.
The authorities demolished over 734 houses ‘illegally’ constructed inside it. The eviction drive, which was carried out following a Gauhati High Court order based on a PIL, involved over 1,500 police personnel and about 300 demolition labourers, apart from a dozen elephants and a few bulldozers. A few police and forest personnel were injured when encroachers pelted stones to stop the operation.
An eviction order was issued by the Gauhati High Court while disposing off a suo moto PIL registered in 2013 on the basis of a letter written by Early Birds, a Guwahati-based environment protection group giving details of how the sanctuary was rapidly shrinking because of failure of the authorities to protect it from systematic encroachment. An official estimate has put the number of encroachers at about 2,000. (Source: IE)
“The government has launched the eviction drive in line with a Gauhati High Court order. Encroachment has not only led to destruction of valuable forests, but also triggered serious human-elephant conflict across the state. Amchang is only one example,” State Forest and Environment Minister Pramila Rani Brahma said. The sanctuary would be freed of encroachers within November 30, she said.
The mammal list of Amchang includes elephant, Chinese Pangolin, Flying Fox, Assamese Macaque, Rhesus Macaque, Capped Langur, Hoolock Gibbon, Jungle Cat, Leopard Cat, Leopard, Barking Deer, Gaur and Porcupine among others.
‘Four people sustained injuries when they tried to disrupt the eviction drive as the police had to use teargas shells because they caused obstruction,’ said a press release from the Assam Police. The eviction drive faced stiff opposition when women of the area lay on the ground in a bid to prevent the operation inside the wildlife sanctuary.
A large number of state police, central paramilitary forces along with Kamrup (M) district administration and forest department personnel conducted the eviction using more than 15 elephants, bulldozers and excavators to remove the bamboo and thatch houses inside the forest.
Before beginning the eviction operation, the administration officials through public address systems reportedly urged the settlers to remove their belongings and move away. The settlers refused to oblige and launched a protest against the drive. The protestors claimed that they were forced to relocate to the forest as their homes in Upper Assam (Lakhimpur, Dhemaji and Majuli districts) were washed away by river Brahmaputra in the recent floods. (Source: IE)
However, the residents claim that they were not given prior notice. One resident of Botaghuli, Guwahati said, “The District Administration should have provided us with alternative rehabilitation before they bulldozed our homes that we have built with years of hard work.”
Why a sudden eviction?
One of the residents of Botaghuli, Bedanta Baruah speaking to G Plus said, “What I cannot understand is how the administration without prior notice decided to break down the houses. There have been families that have been living here for over thirty years. The government has set up polling booths for these residents, they have paid khazana for the land, they have paid their electricity bills, people have been issued their drivers’ license and ration cards under these addresses. Then how is it that they demolished the houses calling it ‘illegal’?”
What is interesting is that there are also houses in the area set up under Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), the government’s flagship housing program. Another resident speaking to G Plus said, “There are houses set up under IAY in the area. Will those too be demolished? Why is the government so unplanned in its approach?”
One Madhu Madhabdas while showing his driving license said that, ‘I have a license under this address; which means that the police and administration have verified the location and thus it cannot be illegal.’
One of the residents lambasting MLA Atul Bora said, “He has not come to us even once. Our homes have been destroyed. It is only during the elections that these politicians come to us with their hands folded and at the same time they bring with them some money so that they can buy our votes. Now Panchayat elections are drawing near and these politicians will make a bee line to us. Let them come, and we will greet him with sandals.”
The bulldozers and elephants brought down over 700 houses, transformers, electricity poles set up by the State Electricity Board and one telecom tower set up inside the reserve area.
File photo of eviction at Amchang Forest Reserve | GPlus photo