It had been a long standing demand from environmentalists and common people of Assam that Kaziranga National Park (KNP) should be freed from illegal settlers. These illegal settlements not only take away the sheen from our most famed national park but also pose grave danger to the prized biodiversity in KNP. In the month of October last year, Gauhati High Court had passed an order for clearing the animal corridors of Bandardubi, Deosursang and Palkhowa from encroachers.
Eviction Turning Gory
The problem though lies not in eviction but in the manner of eviction which led to the death of two people, including a woman. Government spokesperson Chandra Mohan Patowary has claimed in a press meet that the residents of these villages were informed about the eviction and they had agreed with the compensation offered by the government. So, what happened in the interim that these people refused to vacate their village citing that they are unhappy with the compensation? Patowary suggests that someone has instigated the villagers. In this case, a proper investigation should be announced over this.
However, one has to condemn the BJP government’s trigger happy method of curbing protests. Just recently, one Mintu Deori was killed from police firing during the protest at Raha in support of AIIMS. After that incident also, government had cried foul play. An elected government will face such protests. But it is the duty of the government to ensure that no innocent people lose their life.
Necessary for Conservation of Kaziranga
Renowned wildlife activist Soumyadeep Dutta says that eviction of illegal encroachers is necessary for the sake of Kaziranga. ‘I condemn the death of two people today. But if they are illegal encroachers, then they should certainly be evicted by government. However, the evicted people should be adequately compensated by the government. This eviction is being done for the Tiger Project. Eviction is necessary for saving our forests. People shouldn’t politicize this issue’ Dutta told Eclectic NorthEast.
It is unfortunate but politicizing this issue is deteriorating the situation further. Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) supremo Akhil Gogoi has actually claimed that there are no illegal settlers in and around Kaziranga. However, this claim has been quashed by peasant leader and Gogoi’s former aide Kamal Kumar Medhi. Medhi says, ‘The issue is being politicized unnecessarily. Illegal settlers are definitely there in Kaziranga. However, government should detect those people first before carrying out eviction drive. Today’s eviction drive was inhuman. These people who have been evicted today have been living here since last 66 years. Now where will they go?’
Medhi also questioned the commitment of activists like Akhil Gogoi. ‘This eviction is being done on the basis of a High Court order which was passed last October. The activists had the option of challenging this order in Supreme Court within one month. However, they failed to do so. Now, politicizing this issue will not help.’
Till now, around 350 families have been evicted from the concerned villages. It is true that the natural resources and biodiversity of Kaziranga should be protected at any cost. But the axe of eviction should not just fall on the poor villagers. Hotels, resorts and tea gardens which have been built right on the animal corridors should get the same treatment.
By Nabarun Guha
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