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Gauhati High Court directs Assam government to consider rehabilitation of forest dwellers, landless people at the earliest

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The Gauhati High Court directed the state government of Assam to decide the issue of rehabilitation of the forest dwelling scheduled tribes or landless people as early as possible.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Rashmin Manharbhai Chhaya and Justice Soumitra Saikia disposed of a PIL filed by one Arup Kumar Mahanta, praying for the following reliefs: 

“In the premises aforesaid, it is most respectfully prayed that Your Lordships would be pleased to admit this petition, call for the records, issue a Rule calling upon the respondents to show cause as to why:- 

I) A writ in the nature of Mandamus and/or any other writ of like nature be not issued directing the Respondent authorities to forthwith take steps to rehabilitate the forest dwelling scheduled tribes or landless people who lost everything due to erosion or communal riots, who have been evicted by the respondent authorities from the Lumding Reserve Forest. 

II) A writ in the nature of Mandamus and/or any other writ of like nature be not issued directing the Respondent authorities to take immediate steps to provide adequate facilities of food and shelter to the lactating mothers, pregnant women, infants and children, who have been evicted by the respondent authorities from the Lumding Reserve Forest. 

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III) A writ in the nature of Mandamus and/or any other writ of like nature be not issued directing the Respondent authorities to take immediate steps to provide adequate medical facilities, if need arises, to the lactating mothers, pregnant women, infants and children, who have been evicted by the respondent authorities from the Lumding Reserve Forest. 

IV) A writ in the nature of Mandamus and/or any other writ of like nature be not issued directing the Respondent authorities to ensure food and water to all the persons, who have been evicted by the respondent authorities from the Lumding Reserve Forest. 

V) A writ in the nature of Mandamus and/or any other writ of like nature be not issued directing the Respondent authorities to take all necessary steps to protect the life and modesty of all persons, more specifically, all females, at the time of eviction in the Lumding Reserve Forest. 

VI) A writ in the nature of Mandamus and/or any other writ of like nature be not issued directing the respondents to act on the representation submitted by the petitioner by conducting an enquiry on the issues raised by the petitioner before proceeding with any further eviction drive in the Lumding Reserve Forest. and/or cause or causes being shown, upon hearing parties, on perusal of the records be pleased to make the Rule absolute, and/or pass such further order/orders as Your Lordships may deem fit and proper. 

-AND

During the pendency of the Rule, Your Lordships may be pleased to direct the respondent authorities to first rehabilitate the persons, who are eligible, and then carry out further eviction drive in Lumding Reserve Forest and/or pass such order/orders as Your Lordships may deem fit and proper.”

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At the outset , the Court noted that  another PIL was filed by one public spirited citizen for a direction to evict unauthorized occupants from Lumding Reserve Forest. By an order of even date, the said PIL has been disposed of as a statement came to be made by the  counsel for the petitioner in that petition as well as by the  counsel for the respondents that the eviction drive has already been undertaken and the unauthorized occupants have been evicted  from Lumding Reserve Forest. 
In light of the aforesaid development, the Court obseervdd that the prayers prayed for in the present petition not to undertake eviction would not survive. However, the prayer for rehabilitation deserves to be considered. The unauthorized occupants of Lumding Reserve Forest who have been evicted from the forest area require some sympathetic consideration by the Government and under such circumstances, though the Bench is conscious of the fact that rehabilitation would be a matter of policy of the Government, the Court deemed it fit to direct the Government to decide the issue of rehabilitation, if possible, in accordance with law as expeditiously as possible.

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