The Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) has strongly condemned the eviction drive at Waithou Protected Area under Thoubal Forest Division and termed it a complete violation of law. The state government should punish all involved officials who had issued land allotment to evicted persons, the MPCC said.
A team of the state Congress party visited the temporary relief camp for evicted people from Waithou Protected Area on Monday.
During the visit, MPCC president Keisham Meghachandra said that the state government misused and violated the rule of law using their power and the recent eviction drive at Waithou Protected Forest is clear proof of it.
"Those who are settled around Waithou Protected Forest possessed all land allotment documents (Patta). They have been settling in the area since the monarchical period. However, they received land allotment during 1975 when former prime minister Indira Gandhi had launched a 20-point programme that primarily focussed on giving land to landless people," the MPCC president said.
Chasing them away in an inhuman manner without providing any alternative arrangement even after holding requisite document is a "complete torture, intentional and political bias eviction", he said.
"The people settled in Waithou Protected Area were not encroachers before. But they became encroachers when broadening the definition of protected and reserved forest after the amendment of the Indian Forest Act in 2018. As per this Act, protected forest extends till the end of national highway but before the Act was amended, it was just at a higher portion of the hill," he said.
The state government should have served notice that time if they had planned for eviction, he added.
“Why the people of Waithou were treated inhumanely? Are they refugees or second-class citizens? he asked, adding, "No, they are indigenous people of the state.”
Reiterating that the Revenue Department and Forest Department had completely violated the rule of law, he pointed out that the DFO of the Forest Department does not have any right to issue eviction orders as per the Forest Act. It should be given by the chief conservator of forest or the conservator of forest. After that another 30 days should be given for hearing from the encroacher, the MPCC president stated.
But contrary to it, the Forest Department served show-cause notice on June 10 after receiving allotment cancellation order from the Revenue Department on June 9 and eviction was done on June 12, he said.
Eviction of land within 24 hours of serving notice is unfortunate, he said, adding that the state government should punish all involved officials who had issued land allotment to evicted persons if they feel they are encroachers from before.
One of the evicted members, Mutum Bijaya said that the state government evicting them from their ancestral land is unfortunate. The strong action of state government shown to the people of Waithou has made them feel like committing suicide, she said.
“We have been settling here for many generations. A majority of us belong to poor backgrounds and don’t have any other place for settlement. Please don’t force us to leave the place,” she lamented.
While appreciating the steps of forest conservation taken up by the government, she appealed to the authorities concerned to conserve forest without affecting life and sentiment of people.