Encroachment, Land Dispute Threaten Existence of Behali Reserve Forest in Assam

Reported by

East Street Journal Asia

Legal Data by

Anmol Gupta, Mukta Joshi

Edited by

Moushumi Sharma

Updated by

Published on

March 13, 2022

March 13, 2022

Updated on

March 13, 2022

Location of Conflict

Behali

Biswanath

Reason or Cause of Conflict

Encroachment by Non-Right Holders (Other than Caste-based)

Border dispute

(

)

People Affected by Conflict

Households Affected by Conflict

1000

Land Area Affected (in Hectares)

ha

Starting Year

1987

State

Assam

Sector

Land Use

Behali Reserve Forest (BRF) is one of the last remaining forests in Assam’s Biswanath district, in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas. But large-scale encroachment over the years has shrunk its size, threatening biodiversity. The forest is also a disputed territory between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Communities from both the states have been claiming territorial rights over the reserve forest -- a part of the BRF falls in Papum Pare district in Arunachal Pradesh, which claims the forest as its territory and refers to it as Tarasso. BRF on the Assam side falls in Biswanath district.

In January 2014, 10 people were killed and eight injured when alleged armed miscreants from Arunachal Pradesh attacked Chaoldhowa, a settlement inside the BRF on the Assam side and fired as many as 100 rounds from rifles and guns, leading to casualties.

In June 2017, over five hectares of forestland were cleared of encroachments on the Assam side by the Biswanath forest department. Conservationists, researchers and biodiversity experts have expressed concern over the shrinking size of the forest resulting from encroachment. In addition, problems of poaching and logging for timber have threatened the already vulnerable flora and fauna.

In a report titled ‘Natural Resources Management: Sustainable Extraction Level of Forest Production in Assam’ published in 2001, M.C. Bora, founding dean of the School of Management Sciences, said, “Encroachment in Behali Reserve Forest started from 1980. According to the forest department of Assam, the total encroached area is 3,375 hectares, but, in reality, the actual encroachment area is more than 3,500 hectares.”

Behali was declared a reserve forest in 1917. It is home to some 950 species of flora and fauna and houses archaeological relics dating to as early as the 9th century. Located very close to the Kaziranga National Park, Behali also serves as an elephant corridor and is part of the Kameng-Sonitpur elephant reserve on the Assam-Arunachal border.

A person living around Behali told the media that the ‘people from Arunachal at the border are armed, which they use for hunting rather than protecting themselves. Today, if an elephant goes to the other side of the forest, it won’t come out alive’. He added that until a proper demarcation of boundary between the two states was done, land disputes and encroachments would continue in the forest.

Nature’s Bonyopran, a non-profit based in Assam, claims a nexus between the timber mafia of the state and a section of people from Arunachal Pradesh, who while felling trees for smuggling timber also clear the forestland for encroachment.

Dipankar Bora, assistant professor at Goalpara College, calls for immediate attention to save the BRF. He explained to LCW that “encroachment of land, burning of forests and hunting of wildlife can still be seen in the border areas of the reserve, which is a serious concern". "Encroachers from Arunachal Pradesh have claimed most of the hills surrounding the BRF as their territory and have started rubber and jhum cultivations to claim the land. BRF's protection is critically low, and whatever protection is there, it is only towards the Assam side. There is no beat camp or forest office on the other side," he told LCW and added that almost 48 per cent of the forest is lost, and only 60 square kilometres of the intact forest is left of the original notified area of 140 square kilometres.

Meanwhile, the secretary of Nature's Bonyopran informed LCW that the forest department has sent a relevant proposal to the state government and that they are set to change Behali's reserve forest status to a wildlife sanctuary.

Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Opposition against environmental degradation

Demand for legal recognition of land rights

Other Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

1. Recognition of Behali Reserve Forest as a wildlife sanctuary. 2. Resolution of border dispute around the forest between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. 3. Creation of alternative sources of livelihood for forest-dwellers.

Region Classification

Rural

Type of Land

Common

Type of Common Land

Forest

Total investment involved (in Crores):

Type of investment:

Year of Estimation

Page Number In Investment Document:

Has the Conflict Ended?

No

When did it end?

Why did the conflict end?

Categories of Legislations Involved in the Conflict

Legislations/Policies Involved

Assam Forest Regulation, 1891
Section 4 [Power of state government to declare any land as reserved forest]; Section 24 [Trespass of forest to be punished by fine or imprisonment]; Section 25(f) [Acts prohibited in forest to include clearing up land for cultivation or any other purpose]
Indian Forest Act, 1927
Section 3 [State government may constitute any forestland as reserved forest]; Section 26 [Acts prohibited in forest to include trespass]
Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972
Section 37 [State government is empowered to notify biodiverse areas as heritage sites for their management and conservation]
Biological Diversity Act, 2002
Section 37 [State government is empowered to notify biodiverse areas as heritage sites for their management and conservation]
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Whether claims/objections were made as per procedure in the relevant statute

What was the claim(s)/objection(s) raised by the community?

What was the Decision of the Concerned Government Department?

Legal Processes and Loopholes Enabling the Conflict:

Violation of environmental laws

Lack of legal protection over land rights

Legal Status:

Out of Court

Status of Case In Court

Whether any adjudicatory body was approached

No

Name of the adjudicatory body

Name(s) of the Court(s)

Case Number

Main Reasoning/Decision of court

Major Human Rights Violations Related to the Conflict:

Attempted killing

Killing

Whether criminal law was used against protestors:

No

Reported Details of the Violation:

At least 10 people were reportedly killed and eight injured in an alleged land dispute over encroached land in Sonitpur on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border. Alleged armed miscreants from Arunachal Pradesh had attacked Chaoldhowa, a settlement inside the Behali Reserve Forest area on the Assam side and fired as many as 100 rounds from rifles.

Date of Violation

January 28, 2014

Location of Violation

Chaoldhowa, Behali Reserve Forest

Nature of Protest

Campaigns (grassroots organisations/press releases/media)

Government Departments Involved in the Conflict:

Government of Assam - Environment and Forest; Principal Chief Conservator of Forest; Government of Arunachal Pradesh; Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change; Assam State Biodiversity Board; National Biodiversity Board

PSUs Involved in the Conflict:

Did LCW Approach Government Authorities for Comments?

LCW visited Aranya Bhawan to speak to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Assam, but the official was not available at the time.

Name, Designation and Comment of the Government Authorities Approached

Corporate Parties Involved in the Conflict:

Did LCW Approach Corporate Parties for Comments?

Communities/Local Organisations in the Conflict:

Resources Related to Conflict

  • News Articles Related to the Conflict:
  • Documents Related to the Conflict:
  • Links Related to the Conflict:
Poaching in Behali Reserve Forest

Poaching in Behali Reserve Forest

Image Credit:  

Nature's Bonyopran

Poaching in Behali Reserve Forest

Felling of trees in Behali Reserve Forest

Image Credit:  

Nature's Bonyopran

Documented By

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Reviewed By

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Updated By

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Edited By

Text LinkLand Conflict Watch
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