GUWAHATI, April 16 - Although many settlements in the hilly terrain of the capital city are illegal, several organisations including the North East Network, Guwahati; Centre for Urban Equity, Ahmedabad and the Society for Social Transformation and Environment Protection opine that basic amenities should be extended to these settlements in view of the fact that these hill dwellers have been suffering from multiple deprivation.
According to these organisations the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) must ensure basic services to these settlements, even if they are �illegal� encroachments as deprivation year after year has led to a humanitarian crisis in these settlements. The organisations have suggested that there should be an agreement made with the dwellers that extension of these services did not mean legal rights to the land till the land tenure solution is found.
Another suggestion is that local unnayan samitis should be given responsibility to manage these basic services in a fair way. The unnayan samitis should be recognised as local governance mechanisms and empowered to collect service charges on one hand and deal with GMC on the other.
�As part of a research on Guwahati�s hill settlements, we selected a total of six settlements. We studied the situation at four settlements, namely Seujnagar, Sanghmaghuli, Teenug-Ganeshpur and Sripur in Lalmati-Behrabari hills and two settlements, namely Mithingapuri and Nawkata Shibodham at Gharchuk,� informed Loya Bhuyan, a project coordinator of the Society for Social Transformation and Environment Protection. She said pathetic condition of the hill dwellers calls for extension of basic amenities. �Basic services must be provided after assessment of the local situation in each of the hill settlements,� said Bhuyan.
In and around the city, the tribals historically held land as common property resources, which were either acquired by the State government considering these as State property, or tribals sold them to middlemen informally. Since there was no regulatory mechanism in place, ecological aspects were not considered when these land transactions took place. Tribals sold land held by them and moved to city�s periphery and up in the hills. It may be mentioned that about half of the households in the six settlements where the study was conducted were tribals (88 per cent of them Bodos by ethnicity), another 30 per cent Assamese Hindus and the rest migrants from neighbouring states.
The households were low-income ones, about 72 per cent of them with a monthly income of less than Rs 10,000 in 2014.
One of the major issues plaguing these settlements is that the dwellers have no access to credit. In the absence of land patta, they are unable to seek credit/loans for any purpose and have little access to formal banking institutions. The hill dwellers are unable to approach the informal financial institutions as they have no property to mortgage as security. In effect, the hill dwellers have little chance to improve their lives by seeking more livelihood opportunities.
On the other hand, the fear of eviction stalks them all the time. Hill dwellers live in constant fear and trauma in the absence of tenure security. The study found that women were most affected by the lack of tenure and constant fear of eviction. �The women told us that whenever there is a rumour of eviction, they are not able to continue with their normal activities. Children are not sent to school. Only the menfolk go to their workplaces,� Bhuyan revealed quoting findings of the study.
Very common amongst the hill dwellers is water-related conflicts. Lack of water supply to the hills settlements by the GMC has resulted in many types of everyday conflicts.
�The hill dwellers feel that the existing system has helped the affluent at their expense. Continuous deprivation has led to a feeling of discrimination, felt largely by the tribal community as they feel that they are indigenous people, but neglected by the State government after the elections are over,� said Bhuyan.