Guwahati: Around 150 people from Laika, one of the two villages located inside Dibru Saikhowa National Park, have been stranded at the Jagun forest outpost since the early hours on Wednesday.
According to forest officials, their relocation hit a roadblock at Namphai after locals blocked entry to the spot where Laika residents are supposed to settle.
According to Apko Taid, a local community leader from Laika, around 150 people reached the spot in Namphai, situated close to the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border under Digboi Forest Division.
“Assam government had assured us that 72 hectares will be ready when we move to Namphai. However, we found roadblocks to the site. Locals already living in this area were protesting against our relocation,” said Taid, who reached the spot on Sunday.
On Tuesday night, some of the residents left the spot in a Tata Sumo towards Jagun when the vehicle met with an accident. “The vehicle was provided by the government. Fortunately, no one suffered any serious injury. Now all of us are camping at Jagun Forest Outpost on the day of our festival, Ali-Ai-Ligrang,” Taid said.
Ranjit Dutta, the Divisional Forest Officer of Digboi overseeing the relocation of Laika residents told EastMojo that discussions are on with the locals who are opposing the relocation.
“We cleared 40 hectares out of the 72 hectares marked for Laika residents. However, they refused to settle in the land that was cleared for them, demanding the entire 72 hectares for their settlement. Besides, some local groups are opposing their settlement in the area so they put roadblocks,” Dutta said.
The forest official added the land in question belongs to the forest area. “Some locals have been cultivating vegetables at the relocation site. I am arranging a meeting with the Sonowal-Kachari group, which has been opposing the relocation so that they clear out the land immediately. The entire process will take about three to four days,” Dutta said.
Relocation under fire
Curiously, the land was allotted to the Sonowal-Kachari community in 1999 after devastating floods. After the Assam government announced that Laika residents will be settled in Namphai and neighbouring Paharpur, seven tribal groups, including the Sonowal-Kachari community, the Tangsa community, the Sema-Naga community and the Tai-Ahom community opposed the relocation. In a press statement on January 19, the groups opposed the relocation, which may threaten the peace in Patkai region, where the proposed relocation was scheduled to take place.
Forest officials believe that Takam Mising Porin Kebang (TMPK), the apex Mising students’ organization spearheading the movement demanding relocation out of the Dibru Saikhowa National Park, will be able to find an amicable resolution to the groups opposed to their relocation.
“We are confident that all the groups can come to an agreement and reach a peaceful resolution,” the official said.
Minturaj Morang, Vice-President of the Tinsukia chapter of TMPK, said that people are “fed up with the politics being played around the relocation of these families.”
Recently, the TMPK held a press conference in Tinsukia after Deputy Commissioner of the district refused to entertain press notes of the student outfit. “Until our people are completely settled in these areas, we will not rest,” said Morang.
On December 21, about 3,000 people from Laika-Dodhia, two village clusters inside Dibru Saikhowa National Park, marched to Leziahula Borguri area and camped on the outskirts of Tinsukia town, demanding rehabilitation.
Ever since Dibru Saikhowa was declared a National Park in 1999, the locals have been demanding a home outside the wildlife sanctuary. Locals allege that successive state governments promised them rehabilitation but lacked the will to take action in their favour, following which rivers that surround their village have eroded most of their lands during floods. Numerous attempts had been made by the community to settle in the higher ground since 2013. Most of these attempts faced violent reprisal from Assam government as well as locals in these areas. This year, when the people camped outside Tinsukia, the community lost four lives to the extreme cold, including an infant, while demanding their right to a safe home.