Is protest against eviction drive justifiable?
SHUTDOWN enforced in Muslim populated areas on Tuesday in denunciation of the eviction drive carried out at Awaching area in Imphal East is the second such protests experienced this year against the government decision to either sanitise reserved forest areas or cleanse the river banks of unauthorised structures. Fierce objections being raised against the eviction drives brought to the fore that not all sections of the society share the view that displacement from their current place of residency is inevitable for the government to either take up developmental projects or preserve sanctity of protected zones such as forests and wetlands. After repeated reminders through the mass media and notices served to the families concerned, the new government had also launched eviction drives in March, starting with dismantling of unauthorised structures including houses along the banks of Imphal River. The eviction drive carried out to ensure smooth flow of the river and prevent flash floods commonly experienced during the monsoons continued despite facing stiff resistance when some of the houses at Minuthong area were pulled down. While in the March eviction drive the objections were mainly because of alleged selective demolition of some houses in Minuthong area as few other concrete buildings in the same area were left untouched, there seems to be no valid reason to raise hue and cry over the latest eviction exercise as settlement in reserved forest area is illegal under law of the land. As the government had followed the standard process of issuing notification before carrying out actual dismantling of the houses at Awaching there is no justification in calling the 48 hours strike.
Interestingly, there was no serious issue when unauthorised structures were raged to the ground during the river bank eviction drives launched in areas classified as Porompat, Heingang, Keirao and Bashikhong circles from Koirengei bridge up to Heirangoithong as well as along the Nambul River banks in between Heirangoithong to Naoremthong area. Freeing the river banks and reserved forest areas from all obstacles, unauthorised structures in particular, is part of the public welfare vision of the government for reducing possibility of recurrence of flash floods and protect the forests for maintaining ecological balance. As such drives usually leave a trail of wide spread destruction of public and private properties, it is obvious that sentiment of those affected by the demolition drive will be strongly aroused. Though protest is imminent when families are displaced from their homes, the government needs to remain resolute on its decision to drive away encroachers from protected sites. Along with carrying out the drives, time has come for the government to launch investigation on how the encroachers got hold of land documents, especially in places which have been categorised as reserved forests. In view of the Awaching drive resulting in the detection of settlers whose antecedents are doubtful and few families from Tripura found settling at the reserved forest area it gives the impression that there are certain elements who are facilitating entry of outsiders and helping them find permanent settlement in the state. Confirmation about settlement of the Tripura families also justifies the demand for adopting an effective mechanism by the government to protect the indigenous communities and for the civil societies to remain on high vigil in order to check nefarious designs of certain sections of the society to dilute the indigenous characters.