After Kaziranga, Chirang could be next in the firing line. In what could trigger a meltdown of epic proportions, 1000 Adivasi families encroaching in Chirang and Kokrajhar districts are in the line to face eviction. The aforementioned families are said to be encroaching illegally upon Chirang’s Reserve forest. The forest authorities on their part set today as the deadline to vacate the land. However, even after that, the families refused to move out of the encroached land.
Chirang- The Next Kaziranga
This could have ramifications like similar to that of Kaziranga. On one hand, the forest department is going all out to evict the encroachers and on the other, organisations representing the community are demanding land for the Adivasi families. Most of these families had lost their land when they were displaced in the ethnic conflicts of 1996 and 1998 but were never properly rehabilitated by the government.
According to All Assam Adivasi Students Association (AASAA) President Stephen Lakra, the numbers amount to hundreds killed and over a lakh displaced in ethnic conflicts.
‘We will oppose the eviction drive as the Adivasis had settled in the forest out of compulsion. After their houses were burnt in the ethnic clashes, they spent years in relief camps or near highways. Since they could not go back to their native villages where they own revenue land and the government did not give them new land, they had no option but to settle in forests,’ Lakra told the media.
Forest Department practicing Favouritism
Not only that, Lakra also accused the forest department of practicing favouritism. He alleged the forest department had “selectively” issued notices to Adivasi families though others also occupied forest land. Countering the allegation of forests being destructed by felling of trees, Lakra alleged that some settlers were engaged by timber smugglers as well as forest officials to cut trees. No such notices were sent to them. Forest officials denied the allegations.
Meanwhile Haltugaon forest range officer Dhirendra Nath Basumatary is of the view that these families have settled illegally on forest land and must be evicted. He also accused them of putting the ecosystem of the forests in jeopardy. However he also admits that most of these encroachers are victims of ethnic clashes.
‘They have illegally settled in the forests over the past 15 to 20 years. We had evicted some people earlier but they set up houses again. They are destroying the forests too. This time we issued them notices on September 21 and asked them to vacate the land within a week. Since they have not followed the order, we have requested Kokrajhar and Chirang district administrations to provide us a magistrate for the eviction drive,’ he countered.
The government has faced considerable flak after two persons died during an eviction drive at Banderdubi village near Kaziranga National Park in Nagaon district on September 20. However the government doesn’t seem to be in the mood of putting their hands up. NGOs working for Adivasi families displaced by ethnic conflicts said the state government must put in place a comprehensive rehabilitation plan. They are of the view that eviction without rehabilitation or resettlement is not the solution.