Despite ample Central funds, no move to relocate illegal settlers away from tiol park
* Mas tiol Park bordering Bhutan spreads over an area of 500 sq km
* Within the 500 sq km Mas tiol Park, there are illegal settlements in around 31 sq km stretch.
* Mas tiol Park's core area is larger than Kaziranga's core area.
BY OUR STAFF REPORTER
GUWAHATI, July 24: The ubated, large-scale land encroachment in tiol parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the State has long been a matter of grave concern, an issue often raised at various forums by political and social groups. While successive governments have ignored this festering problem on the ground, for the Opposition it continues to be merely a stick to beat the government with. On most occasions, it is Kaziranga tiol Park (KNP) which hogs the political wrangling, while the equally serious encroachment problems in other tiol parks/sanctuaries barely get passing mention.
Not only KNP, Mas tiol Park in Baksa district has been also losing its land due to encroachment by illegal settlers for long, but no strict action has been taken by the authorities concerned. The Mas tiol Park bordering Bhutan is spread over an area of 500 sq km, which is larger than the core area of 430 sq km of KNP. Within the 500 sq km Mas park, there are illegal settlements in around 31 sq km stretch, according to government reports.
Unfortutely, despite the Government of India (GoI) providing ample funds to Assam during 2008-2009 for resettling the illegal settlers in Mas, nothing has been done till date by the State government and Mas tiol Park authority. The Sentinel recently carried a report highlighting the problem of encroachment faced by 4 tiol parks and 5 wildlife sanctuaries in the State, but the government is yet to come up with concrete measures to deal with it.
The problem of encroachment of land of Mas has also come to the notice of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India which in its report on revenue sector stated, “In the year 1995-96, an area of 1,550 hectares had been encroached under the Panbari Range. Audit scrutiny revealed that in 2006, about 520 families were residing in the encroached land. The encroachment had been increasing rapidly and 912 families were residing inside the park area in 2007-08 having population of 4,525. Further, other areas such as - Dihira funda and Betbari under Bhuyanpara Range were under encroachment for the past 20 years. However, the area could not be freed from the encroachers while the habitat continues to suffer adversely due to human settlement inside the NP.”
As the first step to relocate the villages, the tiol Tiger Conservation Authority of the Gol had sanctioned and released Rs 6.46 crore during 2008-09 for relocation of the villagers under Panbari Range. The fund was placed at the disposal of the Deputy Commissioner, Chirang. It was, however, noticed that the park authorities did not succeed in relocating the villagers as they were reluctant to vacate the land despite offer of compensation of Rs 10 lakh per family. Reasons for the reluctance of the villagers to accept the compensation was not on record.
The CAG report further stated: “Due to failure of the civil administration as well as the park authorities to relocate the villagers, the Gol withdrew the entire amount and directed the park authorities to utilize the funds against the APOs of 2012-13 ( Rs 2.73 crore) and 2013-14 ( Rs 3.73 crore). Thus, despite allocation of funds by the GoI, the territory of the park could not be made free of the encroachers,” adding, “neither the park authorities nor the Department/GoA/GoI made any attempt during last 7-8 years in relocating the villages after the first attempt failed in 2008-09.”
During interaction with wildlife officers/guards, it was found that no further initiatives were taken by the State government for relocation of the villagers, who continued to occupy the land inside the protected area otherwise earmarked for wildlife conservation.
“It was further observed that interest of Rs 79.71 lakh (as on February 2014) had accrued in the bank account in which Rs 6.46 crore allocated by the Government of India was deposited. However, neither the GoI nor the State government/park authorities were aware of this fact till the district administration sought approval of the State government to divert the money for other purposes. Till the date of field visit (July 2015), the amount wass still with the district administration, despite the fact that the park authorities were facing acute fincial crunch,” added the report.