Dibrugarh: About 12,000 people of the Mising community residing at Laika and Dadhia villages inside Dibru-Saikhowa National Park of Assam, after they were rendered homeless some 70 years ago, do not have access to basic facilities like electricity, drinking water and roads even now.
It is a tale of negligence, apathy, and suffering due to inaction of the government machinery, they said.
Aranya Kasari, a quadragenarian from Laika, said, Our children trek for miles and cross a river to reach school.
There is no provision of minimum healthcare or drinking water supply, Kasari said.
“We want to move out of here, the sooner the better. We have lived for generations here. I don’t want the next generation to go through the same ordeal. Can you imagine a life without even the basic amenities?”
“Electricity or a motorable road in the core area of a park is unthinkable. We don’t even have basic human rights. We are cut off from the rest of the world. There is no TV and we hardly get to read a newspaper,” Pranjal Kasari, a villager of Dadhia, told PTI.
The plight of a small group of Mising people, the second largest ethnic community of Assam, dates back to 1950 when a change in course of the Brahmaputra river took place after the great earthquake, rendering 75 households of Murkongselek along the Arunachal Pradesh border homeless.
The story repeated itself in 1957 with a total of 90 households in the Aukland area of Rahmaria revenue circle in Dibrugarh district becoming homeless due to river erosion and forced to move out and take shelter in the then Dibru Reserve Forest.
These displaced agrarian people who prefer to live by the riverside had crossed the southern bank of Brahmaputra and came to this area surrounded by six rivers – Lohit, Dibang, and Disang on the north and Anantanala, Dangori, and Dibru on the south.
Flood erosion thus turned an agrarian community dependent on farming and fishing into forest dwellers.
with the passage of time, Laika and Dadhia, the two original villages of the 1950s, have now become six settlements with over 2,600 families of around 12,000 people.
However, problem began in 1999 when the forest was declared as Dibru-Saikhowa National Park making human habitation inside the protected area illegal.
Since then, different dispensations such as the AGP, Congress, and the BJP, have ruled the northeastern state but no concrete step has been initiated to rehabilitate them.
Narrating their plight, Sewali Pegu from Laika said, the villages remain submerged for months during monsoon when the people depend entirely on government relief measures.
“Humans and pigs share the same shelter when the area is flooded,” she added.
The Laika-Dadhia Rehabilitation Demand Committee chief convenor Minturaaj Morang said that forced by natural calamities, the villagers tried to settle in other places several times, but had to return heeding to government assurances of proper rehabilitation.
“During the peak stage of floods in July 2017, around 1,200 people reached Tarani Reserve Forest in Tinsukia and camped next to a school. About 700 people entered the forest to set up houses, but it ended with the then forest minister Pramila Rani Brahma agreeing to find suitable land for rehabilitating us,” he added.
Morang said, another attempt was made in 2020 when the Tinsukia district administration identified 320 hectares at Ouguri in Lakhipathar area for settling the Mising people, but it was later withdrawn after the local Moran community, led by the All Moran Students’ Union (AMSU), opposed the proposed move.
Meanwhile, an AGP MLA of the ruling alliance Ponakan Baruah wrote to Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on May 24 highlighting the condition of the people and pointed out that at least four attempts have been made to relocate the villagers, but they were not successful.
He also said that nearly 600 families are living in different camps for months, but no step has been initiated for their rehabilitation.
“During the last part of the Sarbananda Sonowal-led government, 908 families of Dadhia were proposed to be relocated in Adhakona of Harmoty forest range in Lakhimpur, but it was rejected by the villagers as the land was low-lying which remains flooded for 8-10 months.
“Instead they said that they are ready to move to Tinkupani area under Namphai forest or the same Ouguri area with the people of Laika village,” Baruah said.
The legislator demanded an immediate solution to the 70-year old problem with proper rehabilitation of people of the ethnic community.
When contacted, Baruah said that the previous BJP government had earmarked Rs 10 crore for the rehabilitation, but due to the non-availability of proper vacant land they could not be relocated.
In January this year, Leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia moved the National Human Rights Commission complaining of “gross injustice” being meted out to many members of the ethnic community allegedly by the state government by way of violation of their land rights and basic human rights.
Last year, former Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had directed authorities to rehabilitate the people of Dadhia village in Lakhimpur and the residents of Laika in Tinsukia districts. The rehabilitation proposal was sent to the government on January 8 for immediate in-principal approval.
Talking to PTI, social worker Jyotish Patir wondered how was the national park notified in 1999 without taking into consideration the future of people who were living there since 1950.
“Our views were never taken into consideration before the decision was made,” he added.
With no solution in sight, the villagers have resorted to protesting for years now. More than 2,000 people have been camping at Tinsukia city and holding demonstrations on rotation since December 21 last year to push for their decades-old demand.