Bandh over eviction in Assam

Forest office vandalised, vehicles torched in BTAD

By Preetam B. Choudhury
  • Published 17.09.16
Firefighters douse a smouldering truck at Bhumka under Gossaigaon police station in Kokrajhar on Friday. Telegraph picture

Kokrajhar, Sept. 16: At least eight vehicles and a forest nursery camp office were torched during the 12-hour BTAD bandh called by the Adivasi National Convention Committee (ANCC) today, which began at 5am here this morning.

The bandh was called in protest against the eviction drive carried out by the forest department at Deosri area in Chirang.

Bandh supporters torched five dumpers at Bhumka under Gossaigaon police station in Kokrajhar around 6.30am. Two autorickshaws were set on fire at Satyapur area in Gossaigaon. No one was hurt but four protesters were arrested.

At Nayekgaon Siljan, ANCC activists vandalised and set the Siljan forest nursery camp office, under Nayekgaon forest range (Hultugaon division) on fire, 7km from Kokrajhar town early this morning.

Forest officials said nearly 10-12 Adivasis with sharp weapons vandalised the forest office before setting it on fire. A motorbike and a bicycle, belonging to the forest staff, were also set on fire. They also took away two mobile phones belonging to the forest officials.

Sporadic incidents of stone throwing were reported from a few places during the bandh, which evoked a partial response in the district.

General secretary of ANCC and commander-in-chief of the Birsa Commando Force Birsing Munda said the bandh was called to protest the eviction drive.

He alleged that the forest department carried out the eviction of 18 families at Deosri area with just a few hours of notice served to them.

The forest department however said the families staying illegally inside the reserve forest were served notice in advance.

Sources said thousands of acres of land inside Ripu-Chirang reserve forest, which is a part of greater Manas, were encroached upon.

Once known for its evergreen trees, the forest cover in Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri, bordering Bhutan, is fast diminishing owing to rampant felling of trees and encroachment.

Sources said the encroachment could be much higher at 70-75 per cent, though the official record shows over 40 per cent.

According to an estimate and the records available with the department, over 445.02 square km of the forest in the BTC area has been encroached. The total area under forest cover in the BTC is 3,466.77 square km, of which the reserve forest and the proposed reserve forest is 2,531 square km and 264.66 square km respectively.

The Haltugaon division of Kokrajhar district has the highest record of encroachment of forestland with 14,538.41 hectares being encroached upon.

Last month, forest minister Pramila Rani Brahma had said the department has plans of recovering the forest area by evicting encroachers and through plantation drives. "Encroachers will be evicted. The department officials were given instructions to take steps for eviction," she said.