Eviction threat

By Biswendu Bhattacharjee
Published: Tuesday 30 September 2008

-- (Credit: BAPI ROY CHOUDHURY)fear of relocation has triggered resentment among tribals living in Atharamura and Baramura hill ranges of Tripura, where a survey has been ordered to identify critical wildlife habitats.

Political party Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (inpt), tribal social organization Borok Peoples' Association and the National Conference of Tripura (nct), an anti-Left socialist political force, have threatened to launch a mass movement against the plan.

The eviction threat gained momentum when the sub-divisional magistrate of Teliamura in West Tripura, constituted a committee on July 15 for conducting a survey for the proposed Baramura Bird Sanctuary under the Baramura and Deotamura reserve forests and an elephant conservation reserve under the Atharamura reserve forest. The committee comprises a revenue inspector, tribal welfare supervisor and a forest range officer.

The Tripura forest department plans to declare parts of forests as critical zone for wild animals and shift the people living there to colonies along nh 44. The move comes at a time when the government is in the process of implementing the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, which recognizes tribals' right to live inside protected forests.

According to inpt general secretary Rabindra Debbarmma, executing the plan will evict about a lakh people from Atharamura, Deotamura and Kalajhari hill ranges, where they have been staying for decades and practicing jhum (shifting cultivation by slash and burn).

Debbarmma said about 13,500 tribal families were ousted in 1976 by Dumbur hydel project on the Gumati river, about 3.5 km upstream of South Tripura. About 60 per cent of the displaced did not receive any rehabilitation benefit and most settled in hill ranges, he added. Tribals are again facing the threat of relocation and this would not be tolerated, Debbarmma warned. nct chief and former mla Animesh Debbarmma said, "We will not entertain any activity other than the forest rights act benefits to the people in the hill ranges."

State forest minister Jitendra Choudhury said fencing the Indo-Bangladesh border had restricted elephants' movement, forcing them to enter human habitation for food. "It is time we withdrew human settlement from forests," he said, adding that the final decision would be taken after hearing out the people and sufficient compensation would be given. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, R P Tangwan, however, said "unless the forest rights act is implemented, nothing can be done".

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