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Cleansing Kaziranga

Manmath Nayak1 |

There can be no quarrel with the Assam government&’s move to evict those it calls “illegal settlers” in the periphery of the Kaziranga sanctuary. The initiative is perfectly in accord with the Gauhati High Court order of October 2015. Yet two questions arise: there has been an unexplained delay between the judicial direction and its execution after close to a year. The term “illegal settlers” is merely a euphemism for migrants from Bangladesh, the segment of the populace that the Bharatiya Janata Party dispensation is determined to eject… with 2014 as the cut-off year. It is pretty much obvious that the Congress government of Tarun Gogoi was loath to rock the migrants’ boat, so to speak, in an election year. Hence the lack of affirmative action during the Congress regime. Markedly, the former Chief Minister was not present in Assam on the day of the eviction that witnessed the death of two persons, including a child. The other question to which an answer may not be readily available is one that has deepened the enormity of this week&’s tragedy, if the visuals of the wailing kin are any indication.

Was it really necessary for the administration in Dispur to mobilise no fewer than six elephants, excavators, and road-rollers to demolish hearth and home? To say this is not to deny the illegality of the settlements near the sanctuary; only to underline the fact that it shall not be easy for the state government to dispel the decidedly shameful impression that elephants were set against hapless humans. It is one thing to address the demographic transformation in a border state; quite another to precipitate a conflict between wild life and humans ostensibly to deal with the refugee influx. Bert Hanstra, the maker of the masterly film, Ape and Superape, would have been aghast at the almost incredible praxis of the BJP government.

The third issue that has been thrown up by the tragedy is the strained defence of an ugly truth, specifically the government&’s cavil that these “illegal settlers” were actually poachers who are primarily responsible for the dwindling population of the one-horned rhino. The short point, of which the forest department cannot be unaware, must be that professional poachers and those who thrive on the ivory trade — whether in Assam or North Bengal — invariably flee the area after the crime against wild life. Poaching calls for expertise, and never before perhaps have such migrants been blamed for the offence. Large-scale poaching also calls for collusion of forest officers. Compensation has been yet another festering issue, if the strident demands of those evicted on Monday are any indication. Surely this needed to be sorted out before the elephants and road-rollers took over.