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Assam: Anti-encroachment drives in 3 districts; incidents of stone pelting, lathicharge reported

Assam: Recently, the Assam government launched massive anti-encroachment drives in several districts and successfully freed hundreds of hectares of land in rural and forest areas.

Edited By: Raju Kumar @rajudelhi123 Tezpur Published on: February 16, 2023 7:44 IST
Authorities speeds up demolition drive
Image Source : TWITTER Authorities speeds up demolition drive

Authorities launched a series of eviction drives in three districts of Assam on Wednesday. The demolition drive, which left thousands of alleged encroachers of public land in a quandary triggered massive protests.

The anti-encroachment drive witnessed clashes between alleged encroaches and police personnel. The security forces wielded the sticks on protesters who threw stones at them to prevent the eviction and some of claiming that they were being removed from their homes ahead of the stipulated date.

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

Eviction continued for the second day to "free" nearly 1,900 hectares of Burachapori Wildlife Sanctuary and nearby revenue villages in Sonitpur district in central Assam - a drive that will affect 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. No untoward incident has been reported," a senior official said.

The drive was launched on Tuesday by Sonitpur district administration along with a huge posse of armed security personnel.

At Digboi in upper Assam's Tinsukia district, police and paramilitary forces carrying out the drive by Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) lathicharged alleged encraochers on railway land near Bogapani station when they threw stones to stop the eviction.

Digboi police station officer in-charge Debayajyoti Dutta said, "We had to push back the protesters as they tried to block the eviction drive. There was no injury at all.

NFR is carrying out electrification work from Bogapani to Makum." More than 200 houses and shops will be cleared in the eviction drive. NFR has been trying to clear the area for the last 10 years and several eviction notices were also served to them, he added.

In Barpeta district's Bhabanipur, the district administration carried out an eviction drive to clear nearly 300 hectares belonging to Gopal Dev Aata Satra, a Vaishnavite monastery.

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

"Mostly farming activities were being carried out on in these lands and the people live in the nearby villages. So hardly any residential units are affected," he added.

In Burachapori Wildlife Sanctuary most of the alleged encroachers, who are predominantly Bengali-speaking Muslims, had left their houses after receiving eviction notices over the past few weeks. Some were in the process of vacating their premises when the eviction drive started.

The "illegal settlers" 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 now demolished house, Firoza Begum alleged that the administration had said it would start the drive from February 20. "But it suddenly started evicting from Tuesday (February 14) without any intimation".

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

"Of this 1892 hectares, 1,401 fall within the sanctuary and the remaining is government land. In the forest area 1,758 families comprising 6,965 people live," he said.

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

Mishra said, "We discovered that this area was never surveyed and people were in confusion on whether 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 in Nagaon district." He said that schools and other government institutions in the encroached areas will be attached to ones in nearby non-encroached land in the coming days so that education and welfare measures are not affected, he said.

The DC said that over 1,700 personnel of the Assam Police and CRPF along with staffers from civil administration and the forest department are engaged in the exercise in Sonitpur district. Around 100 bulldozers, excavators and tractors were pressed into action since morning to demolish the structures and clear the land, he said. After the eviction exercise the forest department will launch 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 comprises of the highly endangered Bengal florican, black-necked stork, the mallard, open billed stork, teal and whistling duck among others.

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

The eviction drive in Burachapori is the fourth major one in Assam in two months. The drive in Nagoan's Batadrava on December 19 is billed as one of the largest in the region as it uprooted more than 5,000 alleged encroachers. It was followed by another exercise on December 26 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 in December that eviction drives to clear government and forest lands in Assam will continue as long as the BJP is in power.
(With PTI input)

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