GUWAHATI, Aug 19 - A section of government officials is playing into the hands of a powerful lobby that wants to change the map of Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary in an attempt to legalize the encroachments inside the protected area.
The plot has, however, hit a roadblock, with the forest department refusing to relent and expressing its objection in black and white.
After the eviction drive carried out inside the sanctuary on the directions of the Gauhati High Court was put on hold last year in the face of protests from the encroachers, a deputy commissioner-headed committee was tasked to conduct a survey of the wildlife sanctuary and submit a report. The committee comprises representatives from the circle offices, survey department, forest, GMDA and other agencies.
Sources told The Assam Tribune that some members of the DC-headed committee, during its last meeting, wanted a change in the bearings (grid lines) of Amchang map. The move has met with strong reservation from the forest department, so much so that the office of the PCCF is learnt to have communicated the objection to the committee in writing a few days back.
�We have already submitted a map of the sanctuary to the court. How can we change it now? It will also be a contempt of court. We cannot be a party to the move. Our representatives in the committee will not endorse it. We have also advised the committee not to make any deviation,� a senior forest department official told this newspaper.
The sources said if the lobby has its way through to change the map of Amchang, almost all the encroachments, particularly the business
enterprises will fall outside the protected area. Sources also said both the Chief Minister and the Forest Minister have been kept in the dark by the committee.
Conservationists are shocked at the revelation.
�After change of guard in the Kamrup Metro administration, a section of the officials in connivance with the Assam Survey team are out to hammer the last nail in the coffin of Amchang and write an epitaph that �once a forest existed here�,� says president of Early Birds, Moloy Baruah. It was based on Baruah�s letter that the Gauhati High Court had taken up an PIL on the Amchang encroachment in 2013.
According to an affidavit filed by the forest department in the high court, there are still more than 1,000 structures inside the sanctuary which are yet to be evicted.
The last eviction drive was carried out inside the sanctuary on November 27, 28 and 29 after which the exercise remained suspended. As many as 1,015 encroachments were removed from the sanctuary during that drive.
The government had prayed before the court to allow it to suspend the eviction temporarily �because in the large number of households, school going students are preparing for annual examination and they shall suffer irreparably�. The court was also told that �some of the evicted encroachers are spending their nights in the jungle and they have refused to leave the forest areas and the State government on humanitarian ground is contemplating to work out a rehabilitation package for erosion and flood affected landless persons� who have settled there.
The Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary comprises three reserve forests � Khanapara reserve forest, Amchang reserve forest and South Amchang reserve forest. In 1953, the Khanapara reserve forest was declared with an area of 9.96 sq km. The Amchang reserve forest was declared in 1972 with an area of 53.18 sq km. In 1990, the South Amchang reserve forest was declared with an area of 15.50 sq km. Ultimately on June 19, 2004, the Assam government declared these three reserve forests as Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary is located within the geographical limits of longitudes 91.50 degree East to 92.03 degree East and latitudes 26.08 degree North to 26.26 degree North, covering an area of almost 78.64 sq km.
There are 24 species of mammals in the sanctuary and among them some are very rare and endangered among which hoolock gibbon is feared to be lost as nobody had heard its mystic voice for a long time.