Lockdown horror: Manipur forest department demolishes homes of forest dwellers

No information yet on if and when alternative accommodation will be provided to the families

Forest DwellersImage Courtesy:sentinelassam.com

The Manipur Forest Department demolished houses built in the reserved forest area in Imphal West in an eviction drive last week on Friday, April 24, cited various media reports.

Three houses were demolished after evicting the residents. According to the forest department, the evicted people had encroached upon reserved forest land and illegally constructed three houses at Compartment Number V, Khabam Block at the Langol Reserved Forest area of Macheng village, Lamlongei, Imphal West.  

Speaking to the media, Divisional Forest Officer, Central Division, RK Amarjit Singh, informed that the villagers had been given prior information six months ago to stop constructing new houses but they did not cooperate.

A press release by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and HoFF, Kereilhouvi Angami, a regular patrolling team of Central Forest Division had detected the unauthorized constructions and stopped the constructions. The statement read, “However, taking the advantage of the lockdown due to Covid-19 epidemic and while the frontline staffs were fully engaged in controlling and fighting forest fires at different places, the encroacher started the constructions.”

The statement also said that encroachment, including illegal construction inside the Reserved Forests, violates provisions of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, Manipur Forest Rules, 1971 and instructions of the Central Government.  

The police had served a deadline to the members of the now evicted homes on April 21 stating that if they failed to do so, the demolition would be carried out on April 24.

According to The Morning Bell, A team which included the DFO of Central Forest Division RK Amarjit and his staffs, Imphal East Executive Magistrate, Addl. SP, SDPO Imphal East, women police personnel and additional security personnel arrived at Lamlongei Macheng at around 8.30 am. They noticed that residents of the village had blocked the road and upon seeing them they started shouting their objections to the move to dismantle the structures as well as insisting them to take their lives as well.

In order to stop the villagers from impeding the execution of the court’s directive, the executive magistrate Imphal East and DFO Amarjit gave a sincere explanation to the leaders of the village on the purpose of carrying out the eviction drive and afterwards the executive magistrate issued a warning that all of them return to their houses within five minutes as curfew was in effect on account of the lockdown account of Covid-19 pandemic. However, their efforts to convince the villagers failed and the latter continued to block the road.

The crowd was finally dispersed after police fired tear gas shells and rubber bullets at them as an exigency after which the demolition of three illegally constructed houses were carried out. The police personnel was hurt from the projectile of a catapult fired from the village.

However, what is questionable that the police evicted the people from their homes amid the lockdown without making alternate arrangements for them during this lockdown. Apart from this, the police excesses that the villagers were subjected to, is also questionable as even at this time, it has come to light that the authorities show no empathy for the underprivileged. What was the hurry to go ahead with the eviction and who ordered for it at such a sensitive time?

Mani Gangmei, Chairman of the village, had appealed to the state government to provide alternate accommodation for the evicted members as the time given to them was too short a notice considering the lockdown in the state.  

There has been no update on alternative accommodation for those evicted, probably leaving them stranded during the lockdown with nowhere to go.


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