Forest battalion to protect hills in Guwahati

Guwahati, Jun 24 : The Assam government will soon raise a dedicated armed battalion for protection of forest and hill areas in the states main city Guwahati.

As the government was locked in a dispute with Guwahati denizens over a now-halted eviction drive in hill areas, the Forest department has decided to have a new battalion to protect the areas that are free of encroachment till now.

Talking to reporters here today, state Forest minister Rockybul Hussain said, '' The new battalion will protect the hills and wetlands which have not been encroached yet. Initially, this battalion will be exclusively for Guwahati and later its service may be used for other parts of the state.'' The minister said 16 areas have been identified in Guwahati which are forest hills that have not been occupied yet.

'' We will start with fencing and massive plantation in these areas to ensure that no new encroachment takes place,'' he added.

Mr Hussain said new encroachers will be given exemplary punishment.

Of the nearly 2 lakh households in Guwahati, about 95,000 are in hill areas, of which barely 2,000-3,000 have legal holding over their lands.

The Forest department had started an eviction drive but was met with stiff resistance, forcing it to stop the eviction till a committee formed to look into the eviction and rehabilitation aspects submits its reports.

An anti-eviction rally in Dispur area yesterday had turned unruly, prompting police to open fire in which three people were killed.