As the administration completes its preparations for an eviction drive to clear 500 hectares of forest land in Assam’s Lakhimpur district, many of the “illegal settlers” were seen carrying away their belongings on Monday.
Some families were seen loading their goods on trucks, while others were trudging out with their baggage loaded on their bicycles. Children were also seen carrying bundles on their head as they walked out in their parents’ wake.
An eviction drive to clear 501 hectares of Pava reserve forest in first phase in Adhasona and Mohaghuli villages will be carried out on Tuesday. Most of those affected were Bengali Mulsims, often referred to as `Mian’.
Out of 2,560.25 hectares of the reserved forest, only 29 hectares are currently free of any encroachment, officials said.
The residents and leaders claim that they were given land ownership documents earlier.
However, the documents were rejected by the current BJP-led dispensation in Assam, they claimed.
“The people of these areas have been living here for decades. Houses were built under the PMAY scheme, Anganwadi centres were built by the state, electricity connection and roads under the MGNREGA program were all made,” claimed Anwarul, Lakhimpur district secretary of All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU).
He questioned how the government schemes were being given to these residents if they were illegally living in the area.
A local claimed that the state government had provided them with land ownership in earlier decades.
“When we submitted the same to this government, they rejected it. Where do we go now?” he wondered.
The villagers also alleged that the demarcation pillar of Pava reserve forest has been changed several times, especially since 2017, and claimed that “arbitrary marking” was being done to demarcate the boundary ahead of the eviction drive.
The residents have, however, been moving out of the area since the last few days with many families seen carrying away their belongings on Monday also.
“We once again appeal all the illegal settlers to leave. Once the excavators are put into action tomorrow, nothing will be spared,” a police officer on duty urged the villagers.
Another official said the area to be cleared has been divided into four blocks and the drive will commence simultaneously on all locations on Tuesday morning.
“Our top officers have briefed the personnel here. We do not anticipate much resistance. We are prepared for any scenario,” he said.
Lakhimpur Superintendent of Police Bedanta Madhab Rajkhowa had said 600 personnel of state police and CRPF have been deployed for the exercise. Mock drill and long march have been conducted in the area.
Divisional forest officer (DFO) Ashok Kumar Dev Choudhury said that 701 families have encroached upon the Pava reserved forest land over the last three decades.
The illegal settlers include people from different parts of the state as well as locals displaced due to flood and erosion.
District deputy commissioner Sumit Sattawan said the people living in the encroached areas were notified by the forest department and local administration two years ago to vacate the area.
In July last year, 84 families submitted documents claiming land ownership but these were found to be fake upon scrutiny.
On September 7, the circle officer of Naoboicha personally approached the encroachers and asked them to leave voluntarily, he said.
The drive was supposed to be carried out in September itself but was deferred due to floods.
The Himanta Biswa Sarma-led dispensation has been carrying out eviction drives in different parts of the state since it assumed power in May 2021, with two such exercises undertaken last month.