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Sushanta Talukdar
Date of Publish: 2017-11-28

Eviction in Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary: Houses demolished but the larger question of rehabilitation of about 1200 families left unanswered

 

Assam Environment and Forest Department resumed eviction drive in the Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary on November 27 and demolished 408 “encroachments” in the sanctuary. Located on the eastern limit of Guwahati city Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary consists of Amchang Reserve Forest, South Amchang Reserve Forest and Khanapara Reserve Forest in Kamrup (Metropolitan) district and is spread over an area of 78.64 square kilometers.

The Gauhati High Court on November 7 had directed the State Government to submit a fresh status report on November 30 which was fixed for further order on a suo-moto PIL taken by the court in 2013. The High Court took up the PIL ( Suo-moto) on the basis of a letter written by Early Birds, a Guwahati-based NGO in which it had alleged that unabated encroachment had led to shrinkage of the wildlife sanctuary. The court directed the Environment and Forest department to remove the alleged encroachments.

In an additional affidavit filed before the Gauhati High Court, the Divisional Forest Officer stated that on August 25, “drive to remove encroachment from Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary was substantially carried out and as many as 283 encroachments were removed.” The affidavit also stated that “another drive will be undertaken in the month of November, 2017 to make the Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary free from encroachment.”

The district administration deployed 1500 security personnel, 300 demolition labourers, eight elephants, eight excavators on the first day of the three-day eviction drive in the wildlife sanctuary.

Police fired tear gas shells, resorted baton charge to disperse a crowd of evicted families who tried to resist demolition of their houses. Four persons belonging to evicted families sustained injuries. An official release states that a photographer of the Environment and Forest Department and a security personnel sustained injuries during stone pelting by a section of “encroachers.”

Several evicted families from erosion-affected areas of river island Majuli, and places in Dhemaji, Lakhimpur and Nalbari districts say that they were rendered landless and homeless due to erosion caused by the river Brahmaputra and moved to the capital city in search of shelter and livelihood.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change issued a Gazette notification issued on May 7, 2017 declaring an area of 109.99 square kilometer and covering the wildlife sanctuary and 37 revenue villages as Eco-sensitive zone.

The notification says that the Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary, located on the eastern limit of Guwahati city, represents one of the rich and ecologically diverse habitat for the wide variety of animals and plant species. Hollockgibbon, Chinese pangolin, Flying squirrel, Assamese Macaque, Capped languor, Slow loris, Leopard, Elephant, Sambar, Barking Deer, Gaur etc., are the principal animals found in the wildlife sanctuary. In addition to these a wide variety of avian fauna, reptiles, amphibians and insects are found in the wildlife sanctuary.

Source : Ministry of Environment, Forest and Claimate Change

The High Court directed the State Government to ensure that encroachments do not mushroom again at the places from where they have been removed. “We appreciate the removal of encroachments from Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary by the State Government and we hope that the Sanctuary will soon be made free from all encroachments. We, however, direct the State Government to ensure that encroachments do not mushroom again at the places from where they have been removed and that the State Government shall take effective steps in this regard,” the Division Bench stated in the directive.

Members of the several evicted families asked officials engaged in the eviction drive where would they go now as they had already been displaced by the river Brahmaputra several times and no place to settle for sustainable living. Members of the erosion affected families belonging to Mising community and hailing from Jengrai area of the river island Majuli claimed that they had settled in the sanctuary in 1998 after the river Brahmaputra had completely eroded their land and rendered them landless and homeless.

The silence of the officials spoke volume of the hard reality that while houses were demolished and “encroachments” were removed, the larger question of rehabilitation of about 1200 families who had settled in the wildlife sanctuary left unanswered.

Photo, text and video -- Sushanta Talukdar

 

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