GUWAHATI: Asam Sahitya Sabha and Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) are at loggerheads over a piece of land measuring 55 bighas at Chachal in the heart of Guwahati city.
The GMDA has started digging this piece of land for the maintenance of a wetland called Silsako, which has been under the occupation of Sahitya Sabha since 1993.
It has been alleged that the GMDA “illegally” grabbed the land and deployed 10-15 JCBs to dig the area without prior consultation with Sahitya Sabha.
“While the entire crew of the Sahitya Sabha was busy with the biennial session to be held at Narayanpur from January 31, they (GMDA) grabbed this land and deployed 10-15 JCBs to dig up the land. We took up the issue with the central committee of Sahitya Sabha,” said Pabitra Kumar Sarma, coordinator, Dr Bhupen Hazarika Cultural University, Assam Sahitya Sabha.
“We urge the state government to stop construction by GMDA as it was allotted to the Sabha for a multi-purpose project to be implemented for the language and culture of eight northeastern states,” Sarma said.
However, the GMDA authorities denied the allegation and said they were working to protect the wetland according to the Act.
“We are not grabbing the land. This is government land. We are working here to maintain the waterbody to control flash floods in Guwahati. We are doing it under Section 4 of the Guwahati Water Bodies (Preservation and Conservation) Act,” said Kausar Hilaly, chief executive officer (CEO) of GMDA.
“If the Sahitya Sabha got the land, they should have gone ahead with the project. The land was lying abandoned for more than 29 years. Now we can’t permit them for any kind of construction as this area is protected by an act. The land is protected by Guwahati Water Bodies (Preservation and Conservation) Act,” he added.
Silsako beel is a large urban water body important for the role it plays as a reservoir basin for the stormwater runoff from the nearby hills and Meghalaya. The conservation and restoration of the lake is undertaken by GMDA to bring people close to nature to make them understand the importance of nature and to motivate its preservation and the diverse habitat of the aquatic life.
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Ecologically, it is of great significance for an area as they support different food chains and food webs, recharge groundwater, trap solar energy and provide shelter to flora and fauna having ecological and economical value.
Notably, this piece of land measuring 55 bighas under dag No 602 in 1993 during the regime of former chief minister late Hiteswar Saikia for the construction of eight projects for the protection of the language and culture of eight states of Northeast.
“The Sabha president late Lakhyadhar Choudhury and principal secretary Ramcharan Thakuria pressurized the government for land for the project. The Sabha took possession of land in 1993. The PCCF D Prasad Neog assisted in the construction of a boundary wall, which was later damaged due to the widening of the highway. A small house was also constructed in the site. Huge earth-filling work has to be done here as this was a wetland,” said Dr Dayananda Pathak, noted litterateur and former magazine secretary of Asam Sahitya Sabha.
“Both Laakhyadhar Choudhury and Ramcharan Thakuria are no more. They left for the heavenly abode. In later days, the office bearers of Sahitya Sabha failed to go ahead with the project. There was no zeal with them for the implementation of the project. No communication was made with any government of northeastern states seeking their help for implementation of the project,” Dr Pathak said.
As the land was lying abandoned, the Sabha in 2014 decided to set up a cultural university after the name of music maestro Dr Bhupen Hazarika in the site.
“This project has also made no progress due to the lackadaisical attitude of the Sabha office bearers,” said Hareswar Deka, vice president, Kamrup Mahanagar Zile Sabhtya Sabha.
However, in 2013, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) passed an order for the protection of the wetland and restricted any kind of construction works in the land.
The NGT had passed the order based on a petition moved by three senior citizens of Guwahati for the conservation of this wetland.
Following this order, the Kamrup Metro district administration had restricted flag hoisting programme of Sabha Sahia at this land during the 8th biennial session in Guwahati in 2014.
“It is mysterious why the Sabha did not challenge the NGT order. Practically, there is no wetland here,” Deka said.
“We are taking up the issue in the delegates’ session of the Sahitya Sabha on February 1. We also urge the government to stay away from the construction works,” Deka also said.
“If it is a wetland how can the revenue department have made allotment to us in 1993? The matter has to be challenged in court,” he said.
“It is the only place for Sahitya Sabha. The head office in Bhagawati Prasad Baruah Bhawan is too congested. So this piece of land should be reserved for the Sabha,” he added.
Mysteriously, all top functionaries of the Sahitya Sabha, including outgoing president Kuladhar Saikia and new president Surjya Kanta Hazarika are distancing from the matter.
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