The Kaziranga tiol Park should be the sole preserve of the famed one-horned rhino, the Royal Bengal tiger and other rare and endangered animals. But it is also becoming the stomping ground of Bangladeshi settlers and rampantly encroached upon by dhabas, resorts and various commercial entities. Environment and wildlife protection groups are now awaiting a crucial report to be submitted to the Gauhati High Court by the high-powered committee it has constituted. This had come about after the court admitted in October last year a PIL demanding eviction of illegal Bangladeshi settlers from Kaziranga and its vicinity. It will be interesting to see how far, if at all, the committee of senior Central and State government officials will go into the issue of encroachment in KNP. The petitioner’s advocate who accompanied the committee in its recent survey at Kaziranga, has already revealed to the media that suspected illegal migrants have encroached into the sixth addition to the park, putting up as many as 380 cattle sheds with each shed housing 25-30 such people. The committee reportedly directed the park and local authorities to identify settlers and clear these encroachments within a month. With Assembly elections less than a year away, there are fears that some political parties will encourage Bangladeshi migrants to settle into vast tracts of Kaziranga and thereby bolster their votebanks. The only hope to prevent this lies with the court, so the report its committee will file soon, assumes much importance. It will be on the basis of this report that the High Court will issue further directives to the State government to tackle encroachment in the park.
The Tarun Gogoi government has often been at pains to deny Bangladeshi encroachment in Kaziranga, pointing to the mixed population of Assamese, Bengali and Nepali speakers in four of the six additions made to the park. Meanwhile, three such additions are yet to be handed over to park authorities, which means that the human settlements there will continue to block animal corridors. There are also allegations of some settlers in these additions to KNP, helping poachers to reach and shoot down rhinos. It has to be remembered that these six additions were made to the 430 sq km tiol park to accommodate the increase in populations of rhinos, tigers and other wildlife. But the borders of the park are still not settled, its eco-sensitive zone not filised for the past 12 years despite the Centre’s notification. The CAG report on the performance audit of KNP tabled in the Assembly last March, noted many lapses and anomalies by the Assam government in maintence of the park. The absence of a foolproof periphery protection plan resulting in increased poaching instances mainly near the park boundary, the failure of the park authorities till date to take over the three additiol areas despite records showing the additions to have been handed over to them by the civil administration way back in 2005, a substantial area of government land under illegal encroachment as revealed in a 2009 survey conducted by Circle Officer — were some of the alarming aspects noted in the CAG report.
Meanwhile the State government is also facing the heat from the tiol Green Tribul (NGT) for its failure to act against encroachments in Kaziranga. After the CAG’s damning report, the tribul took a stern view on commercial encroachments into the tiol park, issuing notices to 71 such hotels, dhabas and resorts. The NGT also directed the State government to submit an action taken report regarding the extent of encroachments in four weeks. In its latest submission to the tribul, Dispur has now informed that the deputy commissioners of gaon and Golaghat have been directed to implement the orders of the NGT about removing encroachment from the extended areas of KNP. The tribul has also been informed that the State PWD has been asked to prepare a detailed project report for long-term measures to check knocking down of wild animals by speeding vehicles on NH 37 running through the park. It now remains to be seen how much backbone the Tarun Gogoi government and KNP authorities will display to clear Kaziranga of systematic encroachment by both illegal migrants and commercial entities. When will it begin demolishing illegal structures that have mushroomed right up to the KNP periphery due to non-declaration of eco-sensitive zone (ESZ)? It all depends on the Gauhati High Court and tiol Green Tribul holding the Assam government to account for Kaziranga’s protection.