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Eviction drives conducted in Assam, ‘encroachers’ lathicharged

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Tezpur/Tinsukia/Barpeta (Assam), Feb 15 (PTI) A series of eviction drives were conducted in different places of Assam on Wednesday, leaving thousands of alleged “encroachers” in a quandary.

The drive met with opposition in Tinsukia in upper Assam leading to lathicharge by the security forces, while in Sonitpur the alleged illegal settlers claimed that it was launched about a week before the stipulated date.

The opposition Congress slammed the BJP-led government in the state for the eviction drive and said many of the affected families are entitled to land rights according to the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

Police and paramilitary forces resorted to lathicharge near Bogapani railway station at Digboi in Tinsukia district when alleged encroachers of railway land threw stones at them to prevent the eviction drive there by Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR).

The officer-in-charge lof Digboi police station Debayajyoti Dutta said, “We had to push back the protesters as they tried to block the eviction drive. There was no injury at all.” The NFR is carrying out electrification work from Bogapani to Makum and more than 200 houses and shops will be evicted in the course of the drive. “The NFR has been trying to clear the area for the last 10 years and several eviction notices were also served to them (encroachers),” he added.

In central Assam’s Sonitpur district the drive to free nearly 1900 hectares of Burachapori wildlife sanctuary and nearby revenue villages of “encroachers” continued for the second day on Wednesday affecting almost 12,000 people.

“Today, we are carrying out the eviction exercise at Lathimari, Ganesh Tapu, Baghe Tapu, Gulirpar and Siali. So far it has been peaceful and no untoward incident was reported in Sonitpur district,” a senior official said.

Accompanied by a huge posse of armed security personnel, the Sonitpur district administration had on Tuesday begun the exercise to clear encroached land in the wildlife sanctuary and nearby revenue villages on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra river.

At Bhabanipur, the Barpeta district administration carried out an eviction drive to clear nearly 300 hectares belonging to Gopal Dev Aata Satra (Vaishnavite monastery) of alleged encroachers.

A senior official said four ponds will be dug in the cleared land, which was under encroachment for several decades.

“Mostly farming activities were being carried out in this land and the people live in nearby villages. So, hardly any residential units are affected,” he added.

In Burachapori Wildlife Sanctuary most of the alleged illegal settlers, predominantly Bengali speaking Muslims, had left their houses after receiving notices over the last few weeks. Some of them were in the process of vacating their premises when the eviction drive started, the affected families said.

The “encroachers” were seen loading their belongings in tractor trolleys at various places since morning even as bulldozers were deployed to demolish their houses.

Collecting her belongings from her demolished home, Firoza Begum alleged that the administration had said that the eviction will start on February 20, but began it from February 14 without any prior intimation.

Sonitpur deputy commissioner Deba Kumar Mishra told PTI on Tuesday that thousands of people have “illegally occupied” the forest and nearby areas for decades and the administration has decided to clear “encroachment” on 1,892 hectares during the ongoing exercise which will last till Thursday.

“Of the 1,892 hecatres, 1,401 hectares fall in the sanctuary and the remaining is government land. In the forest, 1,758 families comprising 6,965 people live,” he said.

A total 755 families comprising 4645 people reside on the government land, according to the latest survey, the official said.

“We found that this area was never surveyed and people were in confusion if their villages fall under Nagaon or Sonitpur district. That is why government schools, Anganwadi centres, mosques and other structures were built by people who thought it was Nagaon district,” Mishra said.

After the drive schools and other government institutions will be attached to similar facilities in nearby non-encroached areas in the coming days so that education and welfare measures are not affected, he said.

Over 1,700 personnel from the Assam Police and CRPF along with staffers from civil administration and the forest department are engaged in the exercise. Around 100 bulldozers, excavators and tractors were pressed into action since the morning to demolish the structures and clear the land, the DC said.

After the eviction exercise is over, the forest department will start an afforestation drive and plant thousands of saplings, a forest official said.

Burachapori Wildlife Sanctuary is spread across 44.06 sq km on the southern bank of Brahmaputra. It is located around 180 km east of Guwahati and 40 km south of Tezpur town. It is a part of the Laokhowa-Burachapori eco-system and is a notified buffer zone of the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve, which is home to one-horned rhinoceros, tigers, leopards, wild buffaloes, hog deer, wild pigs and elephants.

Burachapori’s bird list includes the highly endangered Bengal florican, the black-necked storks, mallards, open billed storks, teals and whistling ducks among others.

It has been a reserve forest since 1974 under Sonitpur district forest department and was declared a wildlife sanctuary in July 1995. In November 2013, the forest was put under Nagaon Wildlife Division, but the entire area is under Tezpur sub-division of Sonitpur district.

The drive in Burachapori is the fourth major eviction exercise in Assam within just two months. The one in Nagoan’s Batadrava on December 19 is billed as one of the largest in the state as it evicted more than 5,000 alleged encroachers. It was followed by another exercise on December 26 to clear 400 bighas in Barpeta.

The Himanta Biswa Sarma-led dispensation has been carrying out eviction drives in different parts of the state since it assumed power in May 2021.

Sarma had told the Assembly on December 21 that eviction drives to clear government and forest lands in Assam will continue as long as BJP is in power. PTI TR COR KK KK

This report is auto-generated from PTI news service. ThePrint holds no responsibility for its content.

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