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NGO opposes settlement on forestland

By Staff reporter

GUWAHATI, Oct 30 � Expressing grave concern over the recent spurt in demand by some organisations for granting of land patta (ownership rights) to the landless even on forestland, Aranya Suraksha Samiti, an environment activist group, has urged the State Government to desist from such a move, saying that any more erosion of the State's forest cover would trigger a series of calamitous and irreversible consequences.

In a memorandum to the Chief Minister, the Samiti said that the State had barely 17 per cent forest cover left as against the national norm of 33 per cent, and the circumstances warranted the Government to have stringent forest protection laws and not to encourage any further encroachment on forests.

Dr Haricharan Das, secretary general of the Samiti, said that the ongoing clamour by certain organisations to settle landless people on forestland was sure to trigger widespread encroachment on the remaining forests. �The State�s forest cover has dwindled rapidly in the face of rampant encroachment and tree-felling. There is an urgent need to clear forests from encroachment and the Government should desist from any move that can encourage further encroachment on forestland,� he said.

Pointing out that the destruction and degradation of the State's forests was having an adverse impact on agriculture, Dr Das said that unseasonal floods and increasing erosion had a lot to do with the diminishing forest cover.

�Forests are also essential for sustaining agriculture and allied activities, and the loss of forests in the State has already created an imbalance which is manifesting itself in the form of unseasonal floods and erosion. This in turn is resulting in loss of prime agricultural land,� he said.

Dr Das said that the Government should adopt a pragmatic green policy that could restore lost forests and bring the forest cover to the mandatory 33 per cent.

Conservation circles in the State are upset that the movement for land settlement rights was taking a blurred view of the implications of large-scale encroachment on forestland. �Those fighting for people's land rights should distinguish forestland from other government lands and must not do anything that can trigger aggressive encroachment on forestland. Organised encroachment on forests is already a sinister phenomenon, and any aggravation in the situation will push this invaluable asset to the brink,� a city-based wildlife activist said.

Conservationists also want the Government to be firm in checking any fresh encroachment on forestland and wetlands. �Once illegal settlements come up, it is always tough to evict. Therefore, encroachment has to be resisted at the very beginning,� he said.

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