The eviction carried out by the Assam Environment and Forest Department of Assam in Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary which rendered more than 900 families homeless has started heated debates across the State. While people have been shocked in the manner how houses were demolished by bulldozers and elephants and the residents were unprepared when the eviction drive began, there is also the voice of the wildlife activists who were demanding for this eviction since a long time. Eclectic Northeast spoke to some activists exclusively to know their reaction on the eviction.
Moloy Baruah, President of the organization ‘Early Birds’, who has always been in the forefront of the movement to declare Amchang as a sanctuary said,’ Most people started settling in Amchang since 2003-04. Though the area of Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary was mentioned in the gazette notification in 2004, the border was not properly demarcated. You can’t blame the people who came here after losing their land in flood and erosion. Rather, you will have to blame those who settled these people. Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary is a protected forest. You just can’t encroach upon a protected forest. The settlers would have faced eviction, if not today then some time in the future.’
He added, ‘Nobody really explained the difference between a protected forest and reserve forest to these people. There are 271 reserve forests in Assam, including those in Hengrabari, Kalapahar and East Sarania. We are not saying that you should evict those people settled in the reserve forests. But Amchang is one of the 24 animal protection areas in Assam (animal protection areas includes wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and bird sanctuaries). Also, not just the home of poor people, but also those establishments set up by the rich and mighty in these protected areas should be demolished. We have lost so much forest cover and flora and fauna in recent years. There was a time when hoolock gibbons were very common in Amchang and surrounding areas. Now, they can be hardly seen. There are around 80 elephants in Amchang but because of losing their habitat, they are coming into conflicts with human beings. Same goes with leopards as well.’
A well known wildlife activist on condition of anonymity said, ‘ The leadership who settled these people must be blamed. They brought the people from flood affected areas of Lakhimpur and Dhemaji. They should be blamed for giving false hope to people. Why people were allowed to build two or three storeyed structures inside a protected forest? Because it was given that some day they will be evicted and their houses will be demolished. They should however be given proper rehabilitation but should not be allowed to settle in Amchang or any other protected forest.’
Rathin Barman, Joint Director of Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), expressed his sympathy for the evicted people. ‘It is heart rendering to see the pain and anguish of the people who lost their homes due to the eviction drive. I guess the drive could have been planned in a better way. These people should be settled elsewhere. Also, the people in the government who helped to settle these people in Amchang, provided them electricity lines should be brought to book.’
Barman also added, ‘ However, it is also important that we think of nature. If things go on like this, very soon we might have to buy oxygen. People think that as long as they are there, it doesn’t matter whether flora or fauna exists. But they should remember that people exists for nature and not vice versa. If nature ceases to exist, do you think people will also survive?’