Assam government is all set to evict nearly 3,000 people living in over 1,000 hectares of land in the Lumding Reserve Forest in Hojai district. The drive begins Monday November 8, several weeks after evictions had come to a virtual stand-still in Assam after the brutal killing of two people in police firing in Gorukhuti in Darrang on September 23.
Hojai divisional forest officer Guanadeep Das told the Times of India, “There are around 3,000 people living on the 1,410 hectares of land in the reserve forest,” adding that the first phase of the eviction drive will take place on Monday and Tuesday covering approximately 500 hectares of land. The total area of the Lumding Reserve Forest is 22,403 hectares.
The new eviction drive comes in wake of a September 14 order by the Gauhati High Court that had taken note of the state government’s plan to evict “encroachers” from the forest area. The court recorded, “It has been stated that a large number of forest area have been encroached upon by unauthorised persons from various places. In this regard, the State Government also has filed an affidavit, which has acknowledged the existence of such large area of forest land being encroached upon to the extent of 1.10 hectares of land under the Lumding Reserve Forest.” It further recorded, “In the action plan prepared by the State authority under the first phase of eviction, which will last for 5 days, it will be undertaken during October 2021 to November 2021 and in 2nd phase, which will last for 4 days, it will be undertaken during November 2021 to December 2021 and under the 3rd phase which will last for 5 days, will be conducted during January 2022 to February 2022.”
The entire order may be read here:
Now that the protests over the Gorukhuti police firing appear to have dissipated, the state government is resuming evictions.
On Friday, November 5, Assam Special DGP (law and order) G. P Singh visited the families living on forest land to urge them to leave on their own. He told The Shillong Times, “People who have settled inside the reserve forest (for farming) should leave voluntarily as the area belongs to the forest department. About 80 percent of the settlers have their own homes in other places…so they should vacate the area.” However, he also indicated that the administration was prepared in case the families refused to budge. “We want people who have settled here for farming activities to leave the reserve forest area on their own. However, subsequently if they do not vacate the area, we will have to carry out the eviction drive in a phased manner,” he said.
However, the administration is once again going in prepared to quell any resistance with force. TOI reports that as many as 1,000 police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel have been deployed to ensure the first phase of evictions passes smoothly. However, these numbers appear to be excessive given how few families are being evicted in this phase. Hojai deputy commissioner Anupam Choudhary told TOI last week, “A total of 670 families had settled here and were engaged in cultivation. We have counselled the people over the last couple of days. Now less than 1 percent families are there who too will leave the place by Monday.”
Now, if that is the case then why is the state government deploying such a large number of police and paramilitary personnel?