During the last two days, the eviction of squatters from government land has been taking place with remarkable purposefulness at Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary, Lahorijan and even suburbs of Guwahati. This is a step in the right direction, and the State government’s action needs to be supported wholeheartedly by the media. At the same time, it is important to point out that squatting or occupying land over which one has no legal right is something far more common in Asian countries than it is in the West. As such, one does not hear about massive eviction drives having to be undertaken by governments in European countries because the encroachment was not prevented when it first occurred. In India, the crime of encroachment is allowed to be committed without hindrance, and action against such crimes is often initiated many years later, if at all. In most advanced countries, prompt police action by the authorities makes the business of encroachment far more difficult than it is in our country. In India, and more particularly in States like Assam, the typical bureaucratic stance is to permit wrong-doing through neglect of timely action and then to wake up to duties much later only when there is public agitation.
Encroachment of government land is one of the commonest crimes committed in India. And when eviction eventually takes place, there is much undeserved media support for the squatters being evicted. The only argument that seems to be advanced at such times is that possession is nine-tenths of the law. This is far from what is supported by law or ethics, but nevertheless there is much sympathy for squatters and law-breakers even from the media. What seems to be completely overlooked is that the business of eviction is an utterly wasteful activity arising from the need to prevent wrong-doing immediately when it occurs. Buildings constructed have to be demolished (in Amchang 408 structures had to be demolished) at great cost, a sizeable police force has to be deployed, bulldozers and similar costly mechanical equipment have to be deployed, and the entire task drives home the fact that all the expense and effort that goes into every single act of eviction could have been avoided if the illegal act of encroachment had been prevented at the proper time. One of the worst failures of the administration is the neglect of required action at the proper time. All failures to take the required action in time result in the kind of wasteful eviction much later. And eviction is not the only unfortute fallout that we are obliged to rue later on. One other glaring failure of our police force that people rue every day is what is happening to Assam’s territory along Assam’s border with galand. A huge chunk of Assam’s territory measuring 66,000 hectares has been annexed by the gas by force (with the blessings of the galand administration). Over the decades, our police force has failed to prevent this annexation of Assam’s territory by the gas. We are yet to know how much more of Assam’s territory has been promised by the Centre to galim in the recently signed framework accord. An alert administration should be able to prevent the ceding of Assam’s territory by the Centre behind the backs of Assam’s people. Since this has not happened, shall we have to wait for several years before the clamour of the people compels the Centre to undertake a review exercise that will have a close resemblance with the eviction drive going on in different parts of Assam now?