Encroachment of forest land
Silchar: Some vested quarters have imputed political motive behind the drive of the forest department to free reserve forest land from encroachers. Parimal Suklabaidya, Minister of Forest, has emphatically refuted it, saying protection of forest, its greenery and the environment is the prime duty of his department. No one can deny the unabated destruction of forests and the encroachment of reserve forest land. The Forest Minister referred to the questions being raised in some circles about the long felt need to drive away the encroachers or unauthorized settlers from the reserve forest under Howaithang range of Cachar, bordering Mizoram.
Around 500 bighas of forest land in Rajnikhal range have been encroached upon by 500 families, living in more than 50 houses, concrete and makeshift. They have settled down there for the last 40 years with political patronage of the time and under the nose of the forest department. They have become the vote-bank of the Congress. The Forest Minister did admit drive against encroachment was made twice during Congress regime but without success. The third drive quite successfully was taken up on last Friday and before that the illegal settlers were well informed of it and well ahead. It was a well planned move of the forest department with massive deployment of the staff and officers of the forest and police wings and ably assisted by the district administration. 15 pachyderms were inducted in the operation. In all 52 houses, one LP School and a mosque were under target. All could be bulldozed and demolished but not the mosque. It was an operation without any resistance.
Mujibur Rahman Chowdhury, ranger, said as the encroachers were cautioned with ‘eviction notices’, there was no opposition to the clean operation. They had rather come forward and voluntarily removed all their belongings and livestock and moved to other destinations. It was painful no doubt, but ecology has to be saved. Admittedly, there has been rapid desecration of forests in Barak Valley. Reserve forests stand for namesake, according to naturalists and environmentalists. The forest cover of the valley has come down to a mere 25%, a rough estimate puts it.
Strangely enough, the unauthorized settlers have been enjoying the benefits of the state and central government schemes. The question is, who were behind it? It is not difficult to understand. Reports have been trickling in local and state media about the involvement of ruling party leaders of the time in the loot and plunder of forest wealth. A timber tycoon was allowed to set up an upgraded saw machine in the Dholai reserve forest to cut and chip the woods. With the installation of Sarbananda Sonowal government, a ray of hope has generated among the environmentalists about the protection of forests.
Different voices were heard from the illegal settlers after the anti encroachment operation. Nazim Uddin, Manik Uddin and Ramala Begum said after being served with quit notices, they decided to move the court for intervention. Two ruling party leaders of the area assured them of protection which did not come. On the other hand, Sayara Begum, Mumtaj Begum and Anowara Begum looked belligerent and thundered they would settle down where they have been living for the last four decades. The forest department has no option than to wait and watch and plan for the next destination. After all, ecology has to be saved.
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