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Protests stop Forest eviction drive

By Staff Reporter

GUWAHATI, June 10 � An eviction drive by the district administration on forestland on the hills at Garchuk had to be stopped in the wake of violent protests by the local residents this morning.

People including women and children came out in their hundreds wielding daos, sticks, and brooms from Tarzan-para and a couple of adjoining areas, and prevented the eviction team from going ahead with the demolition drive. Police even had to resort to a mild lathi-charge to bring the situation under control.

The agitated crowd relented only after an assurance by the Kamrup (Metro) Deputy Commissioner Dr J Balaji � who had a meeting with them � that there would not be any eviction before proper verification of the claims of long-time settlement by the residents.

Official sources said that the target of the eviction were encroachers on forestland atop the hills who had settled there recently, i.e. in the last four-five years but the volatile situation ensured that the eviction team could not even start the

process of verifying the documents prior to the eviction drive.

�The eviction drive has been kept on hold as it could have led to a serious law-and-order situation. The people who include tribals are claiming that they have been residing in the area for many years and even have documents of land ownership. We will assess the situation to see who are actually entitled to live there as per law, and then restart the eviction drive,� Dr Balaji told The Assam Tribune.

It may be mentioned that traditional forest dwellers are allowed to stay in reserve forests under the law.

Dr Balaji, however, asserted that the eviction drive would continue later. �We have to protect the 16 hills of the city from encroachments, and any settler � if found to be illegal � has to be evicted,� he said, adding that the administration had already conducted eviction drives at Garbhanga and Sarania hills where 450 and 40 houses respectively have been demolished.

�Not just from the hills, we need to evict illegal settlers from different parts of the city, including the wetlands,� he said, adding that enough publicity had also been given before the ongoing eviction drive started.

The local people alleged that they had been residing in the area for ten to 30 years and under no circumstances could they be evicted. Some said that before the Assembly election, political leaders including the local MLA had assured them of providing land patta. �Where will we go if our houses are demolished all of a sudden, and despite the fact that we have been here for many years. We will continue to resist such authoritarian moves of the administration and the Government,� they said.

No official from the Forest Department was available for comment.

District administration sources said that while people covered by the Forest Acts were entitled to live on forestland, there cannot be land settlement on territory belonging to the Forest Department. Moreover, the landless can apply for land through the appropriate legal method.

Every eviction drive conducted on the hills has been eliciting stiff opposition from the settlers, often resulting in ugly law-and-order situations. The failure of the authorities to prevent encroachment or to evict them immediately after they settle is complicating the situation further. The political parties, too, are invariably found to be siding with even the illegal settlers as they form a substantial vote bank for them.

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Protests stop Forest eviction drive

GUWAHATI, June 10 � An eviction drive by the district administration on forestland on the hills at Garchuk had to be stopped in the wake of violent protests by the local residents this morning.

People including women and children came out in their hundreds wielding daos, sticks, and brooms from Tarzan-para and a couple of adjoining areas, and prevented the eviction team from going ahead with the demolition drive. Police even had to resort to a mild lathi-charge to bring the situation under control.

The agitated crowd relented only after an assurance by the Kamrup (Metro) Deputy Commissioner Dr J Balaji � who had a meeting with them � that there would not be any eviction before proper verification of the claims of long-time settlement by the residents.

Official sources said that the target of the eviction were encroachers on forestland atop the hills who had settled there recently, i.e. in the last four-five years but the volatile situation ensured that the eviction team could not even start the

process of verifying the documents prior to the eviction drive.

�The eviction drive has been kept on hold as it could have led to a serious law-and-order situation. The people who include tribals are claiming that they have been residing in the area for many years and even have documents of land ownership. We will assess the situation to see who are actually entitled to live there as per law, and then restart the eviction drive,� Dr Balaji told The Assam Tribune.

It may be mentioned that traditional forest dwellers are allowed to stay in reserve forests under the law.

Dr Balaji, however, asserted that the eviction drive would continue later. �We have to protect the 16 hills of the city from encroachments, and any settler � if found to be illegal � has to be evicted,� he said, adding that the administration had already conducted eviction drives at Garbhanga and Sarania hills where 450 and 40 houses respectively have been demolished.

�Not just from the hills, we need to evict illegal settlers from different parts of the city, including the wetlands,� he said, adding that enough publicity had also been given before the ongoing eviction drive started.

The local people alleged that they had been residing in the area for ten to 30 years and under no circumstances could they be evicted. Some said that before the Assembly election, political leaders including the local MLA had assured them of providing land patta. �Where will we go if our houses are demolished all of a sudden, and despite the fact that we have been here for many years. We will continue to resist such authoritarian moves of the administration and the Government,� they said.

No official from the Forest Department was available for comment.

District administration sources said that while people covered by the Forest Acts were entitled to live on forestland, there cannot be land settlement on territory belonging to the Forest Department. Moreover, the landless can apply for land through the appropriate legal method.

Every eviction drive conducted on the hills has been eliciting stiff opposition from the settlers, often resulting in ugly law-and-order situations. The failure of the authorities to prevent encroachment or to evict them immediately after they settle is complicating the situation further. The political parties, too, are invariably found to be siding with even the illegal settlers as they form a substantial vote bank for them.