GUWAHATI: Various departments of the Assam government lack cohesion and this is glaringly visible in the encroachment of reserve forest lands in the State and power connection given to such encroachers by the APDCL (Assam Power Distribution Company Ltd). Giving power connection to encroachers does buttress the claim of the encroachers who show such documents as and when there are eviction drives.
Encroachment in the Garbhanga Reserve Forest, on the outskirts of Guwahati, makes a perfect case study. Around 100 families encroached upon land in Garbhanga Reserve Forest and erected their dwelling structures there. As if to complicate the situation, the APDCL gave the encroachers power connection. However, even after formal official requests from the Forest Department to the APDCL, the latter has not disconnected the power connection to the encroachers as yet.
An official of the regional forest office at Lokhra in Guwahati, Arup Kumar Kalita, said, “When it came to our notice that power connection has been given to some encroachers in Garbhanga Reserve Forest, we requested the APDCL through a letter in September 2019 to disconnect the power connection to the encroachers. After a few days, a few APDCL people came to our office, and we showed them a few houses of encroachers who have been given power connection. The APDCL people assured us of disconnecting the power connection to the encroachers after the Vishwakarma Puja. However, they never turned up after that. We had to write another letter to the APDCL on October 9, 2019 requesting it to disconnect the power connection to the encroachers. That request also went in vain. On October 16, 2019 the Central Assam CCF (Chief Conservator of Forest) wrote another letter to the APDCL General Manager. Strangely enough, even today power connection to the encroachers has not been disconnected.”
When The Sentinel contacted APDCL Managing Director Rakesh Agarwal on this issue, he said, “If the families illegally encroached upon Garbhanga Forest land, we can’t give them power connection. I’ll certainly look into the matter.”
Who is at fault for the current situation? Both the departments – had the Forest department not allowed people to encroach upon its land in the first place, the APDCL would not have given power connection to the encroachers. None of the two departments can shrug off its own responsibility.
Official sources in the Forest department say that they carry out eviction drives from time to time, but the encroachers reappear after a few days. “Eviction drives need a lot – a magistrate, police personnel, including women police personnel among others. All of such personnel have to be made available by the district authorities. Sometimes, the district authorities may not be able to make all these personnel and officials available as and when we want. A common scene during eviction drives is that encroachers create a hue and cry. There’re examples of eviction drives putting on hold before completion,” an official in the department said.
The official, however, questioned, “The APDCL seeks lots of documents when a genuine consumer seeks power connection. On the basis of what documents, the APDCL gives power connections to encroachers of forest land?”