Predictably, the Assam government has sought a reprieve from Gauhati High Court in carrying out the eviction drive at Amchang wildlife sanctuary on the eastern margin of Guwahati. It is learnt that the timeout is being sought because the powers-be have suddenly realised that with the onset of winter and ongoing examitions in schools and colleges, the drive is causing much hardship to residents whose dwellings have been demolished. Did it require televised images of the people’s distress for the government to approach the court, after 700 and more dwellings have been razed to the ground? Could it not have planned and executed the eviction without appearing callous and ham-handed? It is true those who build homes on government land are law-breakers. But it appears the State Forest department got around to demarcating the borders of Amchang forest only this year, even though it was declared a wildlife sanctuary back in 2004. This is not an isolated incident either, for the Forest department is yet to properly demarcate many of its assets in other parts of the State. So when poor people, many of them unlettered and lacking in awareness, often the victims of flood and erosion, set up homes in such unmarked government land — should not staffers of government departments/agencies warn them off? In most of the sites in Amchang where eviction drive was carried out, there were pucca roads, electricity connections and even a school running for last 24 years. Many evicted residents have spoken of paying land revenue regularly; reportedly, there were two revenue villages among the sites cleared. And how come cement and coke units, brick kilns and commercial establishments were allowed to operate in this forested area? The State government should begin a probe to find out officials who allowed such law-breaking and most likely profited from it. In a State lacking an up-to-date, comprehensive land policy even in seven decades of the country’s independence, such corrupt practices are a tural outcome. And it is the poor who pay for it either way.
Eviction drive aftermath