More than 500 families have been affected in the drive to clear 450 hectares of land under Pavo reserved forest

An eviction drive to clear 450 hectares of forest land from “illegal settlers” is underway in Assam’s Lakhimpur district on Tuesday, officials said.

Out of 2,560.25 hectares of the reserved forest, only 29 hectares are currently free of any encroachment, they said.

They had claimed they were earlier given land ownership documents, which were rejected by the present BJP-led government.

The villagers also alleged that the demarcation pillars of Pava reserve forest have changed several times, especially since 2017, and claimed that “arbitrary marking” was being done to demarcate the boundary ahead of the eviction drive.

More than 500 families have been affected in the drive to clear 450 hectares of land under Pavo reserved forest, with 200 hectares being targeted in the first phase on Tuesday, a senior police officer said.

Lakhimpur Additional Superintendent of Police Runa Neog said over 60 excavators and tractors and 600 security personnel have been pressed into action since morning.

“The drive is underway peacefully since 7.30 am and we have not faced any resistance so far. We are expecting a smooth exercise,” Neog told PTI.

She said security forces had been conducting area domination for the last few days and the “illegal settlers” were asked to vacate their houses.

Official sources said that 200 hectares of land in Moghuli village, which had 299 households, will be cleared on Tuesday.

The remaining 250 hectares of land in Adhasona village, with around 200 families, will be taken up later on Tuesday, depending on daylight, or on Wednesday.

Altogether 43 excavators and 25 tractors have been pressed into action, while 600 police and CRPF personnel have been deployed.

Almost all the people have already vacated their houses following several rounds of notifications from the administration, the sources added.

Most of those affected were Bengali Muslims.

Some families loaded their goods on trucks, while others trudged out with their luggage on their bicycles. Children carried bundles on their heads and walked beside their parents on Monday.

Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Ashok Kumar Dev Choudhury had said that 701 families have encroached upon the Pava reserved forest land over the last three decades.

The “illegal settlers” include people from different parts of the state as well as locals displaced due to flood and erosion.

District Deputy Commissioner Sumit Sattawan had said the people living in the encroached areas were notified by the forest department and local administration two years ago to vacate the area.

In July last year, 84 families submitted documents claiming land ownership but these were found to be fake upon scrutiny.

On September 7, the circle officer of Naoboicha personally approached the encroachers and asked them to leave voluntarily, he said.

The drive was supposed to be carried out in September but was deferred due to floods.

The Himanta Biswa Sarma-led dispensation has been carrying out eviction drives in different parts of the state since it assumed power in May 2021, with two such exercises undertaken last month.