RANI, July 17 � Precisely at a time when the Assam Government has decided to promote agriculture and biodiversity conservation in a major way, a substantial tract of fertile land and a wetland are being handed over to the Assam Rifles to be converted into a built-up area. Local people in Rani block, who have been protesting the move, say that 435 bighas of prime agricultural land that also fulfils local water needs are in the process of being occupied by the Assam
�We are absolutely against it and have approached various authorities including the local MLA and the DC Kamrup Metro, but so far nothing positive has happened,� said Bindu Ali, a resident of Pachaniapara, a locality close to the site. Several representations have been made to the different authorities including the State Revenue Minister, but pushing local concerns aside the process has continued to ensure the conversion of the agricultural land.
Recently, the Assam Rifles has demarcated the area that it plans to fill up and occupy so that construction activities can take place. According to Ali and others, the land that would be converted includes a wetland that spreads over nearly 150 bighas.
A State government employee and a resident of Pachaniapara who wished anonymity said, �We see big trouble ahead. There would be displacement of people who have been relying on farming for three or four generations, many would lose their homes, and we fear artificial floods would emerge as a threat for the people who are already economically weak�.
He added that the land that will be taken by the Assam Rifles is very fertile and farmers have been able to cultivate it without applying chemical fertilizers. Loss of such land would be a tragedy in a State where agricultural land is disappearing fast.
The loss would extend to grasslands and fish production as the land to be converted into a built up site contains a wetland and are occupied by patches of grassland that support livestock. There are locals like Abdul Ali, a fisherman who has spent his life fishing to support his family of six, who will suddenly lose his livelihood once the land is filled up.
Moloy Baruah of the conservation group Early Birds said that loss of agricultural land and the wetland of Dobka will have grave implications for the local residents as well as the environment. The beel is host to several types of aquatic flora and fauna, and in winter it becomes a refuge to migratory birds, and suddenly they would all face threats to their survival, he noted.
Villagers who accompanied this correspondent to the site revealed that a few middlemen and landowners based in Guwahati in collusion with some bureaucrats have created the present situation. �They all will gain at the expense of people living in and around the area who will lose their land and livelihood once the Assam Rifles arrives,� said a local resident.