Eviction drive to clear forest land underway in Assam's Lakhimpur

Encroachments and evictions are not new in Assam. From ‘illegal immigrants’ to indigenous populations, everyone has felt the brunt of evictions in the state.  

On May 13, the administration came down heavily on hundreds of residents in Guwahati’s Cachal area. The incessant rains also couldn’t stop them from clamping down on their dreams and homes. The residents were left stunned as authorities carried out the eviction amid rains, leaving them homeless and their futures in peril. 

While speaking to the media, one of the residents said, “I requested them a lot for a little more time. I wanted just another 10 more minutes to move out my belongings. But they didn’t allow me!” 

According to the authorities, the Silsako Beel is a wetland to be preserved near Borbari and was under the clutches of illegal settlers for many years. The evictions were part of the city administration’s efforts to make the city flood-free. 

Narayan Deka, the Chairman of the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) said, “Silsako wetland measures around 1800 bighas (hectares). But only around 400 bighas (hectares) are being occupied by the wetland and the rest of 1200 bighas (hectares) are being encroached by illegal settlers. If we want to make Guwahati a flood-free city, then we need to dig the entire Silsako wetland and enhance the storage of water there.”

However, the residents rejected the illegal settler claim and said they had inhabited the area for more than 20 years. And they point out that unlike shanties with no house numbers or electricity connections, these homes had been allotted both: they had house numbers and electricity connections allotted and approved by the Guwahati Municipal Corporation. 

Tapan Chaudhary, a resident for over 15 years, said he never defaulted on his electricity dues even once. 

However, the GMDA chairman denied the provision of land ownership through holding numbers. “Electricity or the holding number doesn’t provide land ownership. We have dedicated rules in the land law to provide land ownership. GMC holding number allows GMC to collect taxes from the people residing in Guwahati”, he added. 

While the administration has been clear that they wish to protect the wetland by evicting hundreds of residents, they are also constructing roads in the Bundajaan Beel in the Narengi area of Guwahati. Bundajaan is a wetland that connects Silsako and the Brahmaputra. 

The upcoming road in Bundajaan Beel will be 35 ft wide and is being constructed after partially knocking down several houses. 

Journalist-turned-politician and Assam Pradesh Congress Committee leader Manjit Mahanta questioned the administration’s move of constructing a road over the Bundajan wetland. 

He said, “Bundajan, which is a part of Silsako Beel, has been allowed to be depleted to construct a road for the CM’s political special secretary. Does it not depict a double standard? It is the same wetland only with different names. Both are interconnected”. 

The GMDA believes that constructing two service roads on both sides of the wetland will facilitate the easy disposal of waste collected from the wetlands. “From Silsako to Bunda, we’ll construct two service roads. It will be constructed so that the waste which we collect from the Silsako wetland can be disposed of in far-away places”, the GMDA chairman said. 

The GMDA, to preserve the Silsako wetland, is even planning to remove the remaining dwellings from the occupied wetland. 

While the government seems firm in its attempt to clear wetlands, its actions have left thousands homeless at a time when the region is witnessing incessant rains. It remains to be seen whether these people will be offered any compensation or alternate plots for residence. 

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