Over 2000 residents from the forest villages of Laika and Dodhia, situated in the Dibru Saikhowa National Park about 12 kms North of the small industrial town of Tinsukia in Assam, have been protesting in front of the District Deputy Commissioner’s office for the past one week demanding permanent rehabilitation. However, their movement to find a permanent home has been ongoing for the last 70 years, since a massive earthquake ravaged the state in 1950.
Following the destruction in 1950, the villagers belonging to the indigenous Mising tribe were given rehabilitation as a temporary measure in the then Dibru forest reserve and have not had permanent housing or land pattas ever since. Most of the people of the two villages were relocated from the Murkongselek area of Dhemaji district.
Over 10,000 people, who are currently residents of the forest villages, have remained cut off from the mainland – without access to basic facilities like electricity and water supply – engulfed by the mighty Brahmaputra in the North and Dibru river in the West. Not only that, the villages face the wrath of flood and erosion every year during monsoon, compelling the people to seek shelter in relief camps.
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What is more shocking is that the people of the area have been denied access to government schemes since 1986, according to an activist, despite the official notifications of 1986 mandating that the villagers of Laika and Dodhia be permitted to continue to residing in the forest area till being shifted elsewhere
Currently, the protesting residents of Laika, which falls in Tinsukia district, and Dodhia in Dibrugarh district have been camping outside the DC’s office in Tinsukia’s Borguri since December 21. They are demanding permanent rehabilitation in the proposed 320 ha forest land of Owguri area of Upper Dihing Reserve Forest Division. The ongoing protests are being led by the Tinsukia District Committee of Takam Mising Porin Kebang (TMPK) among other organisations.
On the other hand, the Bharatiya Janata Party led government in the state, which had made promises of rehabilitation and social support, has been conspicuously neglecting the demands of the protesters. As per sources, while written assurances for support were given to the residents in 2017, nothing concrete has been undertaken so far.
According to the TMPK, the rehabilitation of the residents of the two forest villages has remained a vexed issue since 1999, when the Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary was upgraded to a national park, without any consultation of the residents, which is also a violation of the rights of the forest dwellers.
The villagers also allege that land was taken away from them without their consent over a period of time. Prior to the villages becoming a part of the sanctuary in 1999, in 1997, 765 sq km was declared as a biosphere reserve, limiting the access of the forest to the community.
Speaking to NewsClick, Jyotish Kumar, a resident and a local journalist said, “For over 70 years we have been fighting to get our land. Our existence has been defined by this, yet there is no result. The villages are in bad shape and they have been denied their rights over and over again.”
Talking about the struggle of the villagers, environmentalist Niranta Gohain told, “There are over 1,400 families who are in need of proper housing. We had launched a committee for this movement back in 2001, and even though we have had victories, the demand for rehabilitation remains.”