Assam government’s bold move to protect the world heritage site of Kaziranga National Park receives wide appreciation
Assam witnessed many eviction drives, but the recent one in Kaziranga locality had a different implication, as it united the people of the State on the issue of environment. Majority of the Assamese want Kaziranga National Park along with other forest reserves to be encroachment-free, a section of politicians criticised the government terming it as ‘communal action’.
The development started few months back, as the Gauhati High Court ordered the eviction of all illegal settlers in Bandardubi, Deochurchang and Palkhowa Villages under Nagaon District, which are adjacent to the world famous Kaziranga Forest Reserve on the southern bank of mighty Brahmaputra River. The Court, following a PIL, issued the directive in October 2015.
Following the direction, the district authority launched an eviction drive on September 19, in the morning hours and against all odds it succeeded in evicting 330 families settled illegally in these villages spread over more than 2,500 bighas of land. Earlier many indigenous settlers in the
locality had left their residences
showing respect to the court order and reposing faiths over the Sarbananda Sonowal government’s offer for due compensations.
But not everyone was ready to take the same decision and many settlers (primarily illegal Bangladeshi migrants) tried to resist the eviction drive and made the situation clumsy. Many of the illegal settlers even pelted stones over the security personnel, engaged in the duty, which triggered for strong action against the law breakers. Finally, two villagers—Anjuma Khatun and Fakhruddin Ahmed—were killed and many injured in police actions, though they were not reportedly hit by the bullets. Many police personnel also sustained injuries in the incident.
Sarbananda Sonowal, also in-charge of Home portfolio, held an emergency Cabinet meeting and took stock of the situation. Later talking to the media, he announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 5 lakh to the close relatives of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to each injured individual. It may be mentioned that Sonowal earlier directed State Education, Health and Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and Water Resources Minister Keshab Mahanta to meet the representatives of the three villages, where they announced due compensations to the genuine settlers. He also appealed to everyone to avoid imposing a communal colour to the incident.
The drive was opposed by the Opposition political parties including the Congress and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF). The AIUDF openly alleged that the drive was politically motivated and only the Muslim settlers were targeted. Similar version was also echoed by the Akhil Gogoi led Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti. Meanwhile, a division bench of Guwahati High Court refused to interfere in the eviction drive. The court held that the status of the
occupiers was illegal. The bench had earlier noted that public interest requires clearance of the national park from all encroachers.