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4 May 2018

Plea on forest rail project

TT, Siliguri: Forest dwellers residing along the proposed Sevoke-Rangpo railway tracks have demanded that implementation of any projects be halted until and unless they are provided with land rights.

They also demanded the immediate formation of 'Gram Sabhas,' which have the power to allow the use of forest land for other purposes.

The forest villagers organised a convention at a club here under the banner of the Uttarbanga Ban-Jan Sramajibi Mancha (UBJSM) and Himalayan Forest Villagers Organisation. Representatives of different non-governmental organisations also participated in the convention and extend solidarity with the villagers.

According to the villagers, as per the Forest Rights Act of 2006, the government or any other agency cannot take up a project in the forest without the consent of forest villagers.

"For this project, we apprehend that around 24 villages will fall along the proposed tracks and about 40,000 residents have to be shifted elsewhere. That is why we want land rights to be conferred on us and then, we should be compensated. Without our consent, the GTA cannot issue any NOC to the railways," said one of the organisers.

"We want immediate implementation of forest protection right in the proposed areas that will come under the railway project. Without the implementation of the Act, no projects should be taken in the area. We have already conveyed our objections to different levels of the state and central governments," said Lal Singh Bhujel, the convener of UBJSM.

PK. Subba, a resident of Rangpo, one of the hilly hamlets that will come along the proposed railway track, said they had no other options than to resort to a movement if the project is implemented forcibly. "We want both the railways and the state government to come up with a clear proposal," he said.

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