Saturday, November 28, 2009

‘Influx a threat to indigenous people’

KOKRAJHAR, Nov 28: The Indian Confederation of Indigenous Tribals People (ICITP), North East Zone expressed serious concern that one of the serious threats to the forest of BTC and Assam is the ongoing unabated illegal influx from Bangladesh and other neighbour in the State and Bodoland Territorial Council is not an exception to this threat. The ongoing silent aggression of the external population slowly and gradually outnumbered and marginalized the local indigenous people and local communities in the districts like Dhubri, Goalpara, Barpeta and Nagon, the ICITP said adding that, this was a crystal clear indication of threat to the integrity and security of the indigenous and local communities of Assam and its life sustaining resources of land, forest and water. BTC borders with Dhubri and Barpeta districts to the South and as a consequence, thousands of new faces of illegal immigrants can be seen initially temporarily settling particularly in the sar areas and then moving towards the forest areas.

This study also finds that thousands of immigrants belonging to Santhal communities from West Bengal and Jharkhand backed by community militant organizations are continuing to flow freely in the forest areas of BTC, who have already successfully encroached a large area of forest of BTC and occupied large areas of forest lands in various places of Bishmuri, Kachugaon, Saralpara, Lungsung and Sidli of Kokrajhar and Chirang districts. In some places like Kungring in Kokrajhar and Sidli Range in Chirang, the encroachers are of mixed communities like Boros, Santhals, Rajbongshis and other communities. The increasing population pressure due to influx and population transfer from other neighbouring States of India who have succeeded to continue to freely encroach and occupy forest areas in BTC has prompted the local indigenous and tribal communities too in indulging themselves to further encroach the forest areas adding a new dimension to the already severely degraded situation. The actual situation at present is like a competition for clearing the forest and occupying it.

The president of the ICITP– NE Zone Jebra Ram Mashahary in his thesis- “Bodoland Territorial Council New Forest Law of India and its lack of conceptual clarity leading to conflicts and the current threat to the forest of Bodoland Territorial Council”, which was submitted to Kangwon National University, South Korea recently organized by UNEP-Eco-Peace Leadership Programme clearly said, the influx from outside the country and immigration from the different States have threatened the existence of forest resources of BTC as well as of Assam. He also said, the department concerned still lacks sustainable measures and management to tackle the forest menace.

This study of Mashahary confirmed that, the problem adversely affecting the management of forest in BTC is tremendous and multifaceted one. Lack of proper sustainable forest management policies, effective laws and awareness for public co-operation through inclusive of full and effective participation to implement various projects and schemes are some of the factors affecting the forest management. BTC Forest Department claims that to mitigate the various problems, the department has prepared schemes to involve villagers in the protection and conservation of forest through Forest Development Agency schemes. Under these schemes, the Joint Forest Management Committees have been formed. The committees are provided funds to carry out plantations. They are also entrusted with a specified area of forest for protection. According to the department, at present three Forest Divisions are implementing these schemes since 2004-2005, Mashahary said.

According to the Forest Department, during the last financial year, the Forest Department has also made a modest start to rebuild the infrastructure by contracting and repairing the Forest Rangers’ quarters and offices at Bashbari, Kuklung, Mushalpur, Kumarikhata and Udalguri. A number of forest camps have also been constructed at strategic places such as Nayekgaon, Bishmuri, Superighat, Athiabari, etc. They claim that, at least 352 structures will be required to reconstruct to bring back the infrastructure of the Forest Department that existed prior to 1980 and the approximate cost required for the reconstruction is about Rs 11 crore for which the BTC does not have sufficient fund but have to rely on the State and the Central Government.

The president of the ICITP– NE Zone said, it was sad to find in this study that the Forest Department currently does not have adequate forces to meet the increasing challenges of protecting the forest. The usual Government norms of providing hardly one dozen forest guards per division with a mere few 303 rifles is too inadequate at this complex situation. Though Assam has armed Assam Forest Protection Force, it lacks advance training, sophisticated weapons, modern communication equipment, etc. They also lack proper accommodation facilities and sufficient vehicle for their transportations, Masahary said adding that, it was worth mentioning here that while interviewing few of the forest guards of Haltugaon Forest Division, they expressed seriously that due to these reasons they fear of their own security of life since they believed that poachers and the miscreants possess more sophisticated weapons than themselves and therefore they are forced to stay away from the forest areas. Further, due to lack of necessary fund, it is not possible to effectively mobilize the forest staff and forest protection forces required to support the field staff for the protection of forest. In the absence of forest staff, and taking advantage of disturbed situation prevailing in the area, the miscreants and timber smugglers got opportunities to freely indulge in illegal felling of trees and poaching wild animals till date, he added. THE SENTINEL

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