The recent eviction drive in Kaziranga by the Assam government has drawn mixed reactions. While a majority of the people are happy with the fact that the State Government has initiated efforts to make Kaziranga free of ‘encroachers’, the government has also drawn a lot of flak for its handling of the protest by the villagers in and around the national park. The police had opened fire to control the protesters which resulted in the death of two people. The Delhi Action Committee, a Delhi-based group has questioned the rationale behind the government opening fire upon protestors. They will also submit a petition to the National Human Rights Commission appealing that a show cause notice be served against the Assam government. The Committee will organize a formal protest against the killings in Kaziranga on September 23 at New Delhi.
The tricky question of illegal migrants
Reportedly, a total of 198 families from Banderdubi, 160 from Deochur Chang and 12 from Palkhowa were evicted in this drive. The Committee in its statement said, ‘These villages have been in those areas even before official recognition of Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary as a National Park, its inhabitants are not encroachers but revenue-paying villagers. According to records, these villages (Banderdubi and Deochur Chang) came into existence in 1951 and the government granted patta (land entitlements) in 1961. The names of the villagers were inserted into the voters’ list in 1965 for the assembly elections, and a government school was established there in 1966. On the other hand, Kaziranga was declared as a National Park by the central government on 11 February 1974.’
It is also being asked what the government will now do with the evicted people. If they are illegal settlers, they should be deported back to Bangladesh. But, unfortunately, India doesn’t have a deportation treaty with Bangladesh. In that case, they should be sent to detention centres. But again, the three detention centres in Assam have already exceeded their capacity. It has not been decided whether they will be rehabilitated anywhere else in Assam. So, as things go, ultimately they will come back and settle in Kaziranga in the absence of other alternatives provided to them. Also, there is no conclusive evidence that they are illegal immigrants, with the NRC update still ongoing.
Use of force by the government
The Committee has strongly condemned the use of force by the State government. It said, ‘The villagers were willing to abide by the Gauhati High Court order and evict the land voluntarily for the cause of conservation of the national park but were simply demanding resettlement and adequate compensation and enough time to comply with the court’s order. In the consequent clash between the police and the local people, the police blatantly resorted to extreme brutality, first with tear gas and then with live bullets. Apart from the casualties, five more people have been severely injured.