Video of Eviction Affected Child Goes Viral, Assam CM Remains Firm
The heart-wrenching appeal of a seven-year-old to a policeman at the eviction site near Silsako Beel (lake) in Guwahati asking bulldozers, that had come to erase his home, to wait for his family to remove their belongings, went viral on social media on Wednesday.
The 19-second clip has visuals of the boy carrying two plastic baskets containing some light household items.
He is seen approaching a policeman video recording the eviction drive and requesting him, “Uncle ask them not to come now, we have not taken away our belongings yet. It’ll take 10 more minutes.” He is heard urging his family members, who are shifting their meagre belongings, to hurry. It is followed by visuals of the demolition of a house, reportedly his home.
Local channels telecast visuals showing the same boy crying and sitting on the rubble reportedly of his home. Netizens, ranging from the common people to social activists, advocates, journalists and opposition lawmakers are making fervent appeals to the government to halt the drive immediately. Nonetheless, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Wednesday remained firm and asserted that the ongoing eviction drive, which is into its third day, will continue and be expanded gradually.
He said the Tata Group hotel Ginger, the Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development, which is an autonomous research institute of the ICSSR and Government of Assam and the Chilarai Bhawan of All Assam Koch Rajbongshi Sanmilani will also be evicted from the area.
The drive in the heart of Guwahati saw scores of houses, offices and shops being pulled down by the administration. Around 40 excavators, bulldozers and excavator machine transporters have been pressed into service by the Kamrup Metropolitan district administration, which has been provided with security by about 1,200 police personnel.
How long will the Hon’ble CM of Assam fool the indigenous n poor people of Assam?After the wicked act of inhumane eviction by the govt at Silsako,Guwahati,the CM sans realizing the plight of the displaced people of Silsako tweeted photos of developing the largest lake @ Silsako. pic.twitter.com/wwFtAGT67K— Akhil Gogoi (@AkhilGogoiAG) March 1, 2023
It has prompted the opposition to term the exercise as “inhuman”. It also appealed to the state government to halt it as hundreds of students answering the ongoing Class 10 and 12 board examinations are affected.
Several school students from the area broke down in front of the media and wondered why the exam season was chosen to carry out the “heartless deed”.
Initially the authority had planned to demolish about 450 buildings within 100 m on both sides of the Silsako Beel, but the government has now announced that the entire area around the water body will be made encroachment free.
The government had declared the lake a protected waterbody in 2008 through a legislation and prohibited any construction or settlement in around 1,800 bighas (over 595 acres) of the lake area.
“I have asked to evict Ginger (hotel) and it might take up to two months. The OKD Institute, lawn tennis court, Koch Rajbongshi Sanmilani office – all will be evicted. Badruddin Ajmal’s (the chief of AIUDF) land will also be taken. The government will not show love to anyone,” Sarma said. Satellite pictures show encroachments took place between 2009 and 2015. “We must remember wetlands are a natural solution to the global threat of climate change,” the chief minister said. The government will evict all those who settled in the area illegally, while lands will be requisitioned from those who managed to get the rights, Sarma added.
The hotel and the institutes are at Chachal on the banks of the lake. During the day, the Chilarai Bhawan of All Assam Koch Rajbongshi Sanmilani was demolished, an official said.
Temporary huts, concrete houses and multi-storied buildings were demolished during the eviction drive in the encroached area, he said.
Most of the people affected in the drive are from Assamese communities like the Bodo, Mising, Karbi, Ahom and Bishnupriya Manipuri among others, unlike in the rest of Assam where the evicted were predominantly Bengali-speaking Muslims.
“I was a member of Akhil Gogoi’s Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti. I joined BJP believing in our chief minister’s development model. But now he has stabbed us in the heart. What will we do? Where will I go with my kids?” asked a weeping Sabita Gogoi.
“At least spare our Gods and our faith,” said Samresh Kalita appealed to the government as a ‘namghar’ (a place of worship for Vaishnavite followers) was brought down near Pathar quarry. Leader of Opposition Debabrata Saikia of Congress and part MLA Rakibul Hussain visited the displaced families and slammed the government over the manner in which the eviction is being carried out. “The government lacks humanity. Its action is putting democracy at stake. The people here are Assamese and indigenous. They don’t have any land and that is why they were living here,” Saikia said.
He demanded that the government provide an alternative place to the evacuees first. Hussain said Sarma was the Guwahati development minister during the erstwhile Congress regime in the state. “What was he doing when encroachments were taking place near the water bodies of the city? In fact, he had changed the green belt and offered land to construct Guwahati’s first five-star hotel.” Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority Chairman Narayan Deka said the administration has set a target to clear 100 m on both sides of the lake, which was around 400 bighas (over 132 acres) although around three times of the area is encroached as of now.
“We have now less than 300 bigha of the lake free from encroachment. Because of the massive encroachment, the waterbody has been reduced to a small pit and is one of the main reasons for water logging in the eastern part of Guwahati during monsoons,” he said.
As the area falls under the protected zone and no settlement was given, the administration did not serve any notice to the people living there. “They did not have any permission at all. They were verbally told to leave the area around four-to five months ago,” Deka said.
The state Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Ashok Singhal took a helicopter ride over Guwahati to review the encroachments in the water bodies across the capital city.
The Himanta Biswa Sarma government carried out eviction drives in different parts of the state since it assumed power in May 2021. In the last three months, several major eviction exercises have taken place.
One of the biggest such drive was at Burachapori Wildlife Sanctuary in February in which 2099 hectares and nearby revenue villages in Sonitpur district were cleared, affecting almost 12,800 people.
Similar drives were conducted at Digboi, Bhabanipur in Barpeta district, Pava reserve forest in Lakhimpur district and Batadrava in Nagoan.
Sarma told the Assembly in December that eviction drives to clear government and forest lands in Assam will continue as long as BJP is in power in the state.
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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)