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Encroachers stay put

Minister reaches out to Misings; flood-affected villagers refuse to leave reserve forest

Rishu Kalantri Tinsukia Published 23.07.17, 12:00 AM
Assam forest minister Pramila Rani Brahma interacts with the residents of Bogolijaan in Lakhimpur district on Saturday. Picture by UB Photos

Tinsukia, July 22: Attempts by the Tinsukia district administration in flood-hit Assam to send back people of Laika and Dodhia villages, who tried to encroach and settle at Tarani reserve forest four days back, failed for the second consecutive day today. The villagers simply refused to leave and sent back the 14 buses arranged by the administration for their return.

Altogether 686 flood-affected residents of the two villages have been camping in Bijliban LP School since Wednesday, after tension broke out over encroachment of forest land in the region. The reserve forest is around 2.5km from the school where the flood-hit people are put up by the administration.

The vice-president of the Takam Mising Porin Kebang (TMPK)'s Phillobari wing, an organisation of the Mising students, Numal Padun, said: "Our people were ready to leave this morning with bags packed when suddenly they got a call from forest minister Pramila Rani Brahma who asked them not to go anywhere and stay put for today."

Padun said yesterday the deputy commissioner of Tinsukia, Oinam Sarankumar Singh, had invited them for a meeting at his office. "The leaders of the Mising community met Singh along with sub-divisional officer of Margherita, principal chief conservator of forest and several divisional forest officers stationed here around 7.30pm."

"After rejecting our demands repeatedly in the two-hour meeting, the administration finally gave a written assurance that within eight months, all the villagers of Laika and Dodhia will be relocated at a suitable location in agreement with the villagers of the Mising community. After this written assurance the people camping in the school agreed to return," said Padun.

Earlier, the flood-hit people, agitating at Bijliban LP School, had made it clear that if required, they would die in the school instead of returning to their villages.

Around 12,000 people of more than 1,500 families, residing in the villages inside the national park and facing severe floods every year, have been agitating for relocation since it was declared a national park in 1999. As per the law, no settlements are allowed inside any national park.

The circle officer of Margherita, Rakesh Chetry, said: "After a long discussion with the TMPK members in the presence of the principal chief conservator of forests, a written confirmation - that within eight months a survey will be done and a suitable place identified for the people to be relocated - was given, following which the TMPK members agreed to leave tomorrow morning.

"Accordingly all necessary arrangements, including buses, were made by the administration this morning to shift these people to Laika and Dodhia villages, but they refused to go all of a sudden saying they would meet the forest minister before leaving," Chetry added.

There was tension in the region on Wednesday after hundreds of flood-hit people entered the reserve forest. However, thousands of local villagers from several settlements near the reserve forest protested the move, resulting in a stand-off.

Local villagers of the area said under no circumstances would these people be allowed to settle inside the reserve forest which they have been protecting since 1954.

Brahma today reached out to the Mising community. "These indigenous people of the Mising community have been deprived of their right to take shelter since years," Brahma told this correspondent over phone on her way to meet them at Bijiliban LP School.

"Surprisingly, keeping thousands of people inside the forest land, Dibru Saikhowa was declared a national park in 1999. So it was the duty of the forest department to provide them alternative settlements. My heart goes out to those people who had been made to live in floodwaters.

Sending hundreds of people back without proper solution to their rightful demand would have further disheartened them and hurt their emotions. We have to treat them humanely and I wanted to meet them before taking a final decision. Hence, I asked them to wait for me. I am on the way to the school were 686 people from Laika and Dodhia are camping. Once, I reach, we will discuss the issues in detail." she said.

Brahma told this correspondent that the people had moved to Tarani reserve forest considering it to be a suitable for settlement. "If the 12,000 odd people of Laika and Dodhia demand relocation inside the reserve forest, I will consider their demand and submit a proposal before the government of Assam."

"Rich people fell trees for tea garden plantation. If this is allowed, what is the problem with the weaker sections of society?" Brahma asked. The #BJP legislators from Tinsukia, Sanjay Kishan and Digboi, Suren Phukan, donated a month's salary amounting to Rs 80,220 each to the chief minister's relief fund for the flood victims. The MLAs handed over the cheque to chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal at a programme in Dibrugarh today.

Brahma visits Lakhimpur: Brahma today visited the flood-affected areas in the Lakhimpur district and visited Bantho, Jurhatia village and Bogolijan area where the dyke of the Ranganadi river was breached. She distributed relief materials among the flood victims, handed over educational kits to children and took stock of the situation.

Brahma faced protests while she was inspecting a major breach in an embankment. People demanded immediate reconstruction of the embankment. "We will take action against those who are responsible for the damage, but it will take some time," she said. The minister assured that arrangements would be made for compensation from Neepco since release of water from the Neepco project had led to major devastation in Lakhimpur district, leaving nearly 300 families homeless.


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