A series of protests has been on for about a week against the Assam government’s plan to cut more than 6,000 trees in the Doboka reserve forest to extend a national highway amid concerns that the project would destroy the forests and wild elephant habitats. On Wednesday, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) Hojai district unit staged a demonstration, with more than 200 members forming a human chain around the Sal forest near national highway 36. The protesters brandished banners and posters and shouted, “Protect our forests” and “Stop cutting trees”, asking the state government to rethink the decision.
AASU Hojai district president Devajit Deka and other members of the student body, alongside secretary Saddam Hussein Talukdar and central committee member Pankaj Das, expressed their anger over the plan to fell forest trees. “We welcome the government’s move to upgrade the road. But in the name of upgrading and expansion of the four-lane national highway, the government has planned to destroy thousands of precious Sal trees and other trees of the historic Doboka reserve forest. This decision is not at all acceptable to us. We condemn this and will not allow it to happen,” said the protesters.
During their nearly hour-long demonstration, the activists urged the forest department to review the decision as soon as possible. The AASU team also submitted a memorandum to the chief conservator of forests through divisional forest officer Gunadip Das.
They demanded intervention from chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and forest minister Parimal Suklabaidya, saying that taking the proposed national highway project a kilometre away will preserve the forest and the construction can also proceed.
The student body also announced that it will go on a massive protest if the government fails to take proper action in the matter. Other regional parties and organisations have over the past week kept up demonstrations along with locals.
The activists argue that at a time when climate change and global warming are subjects of conversation and concern everywhere, the felling of around 6,000 trees in the name of development will only worsen the situation. The forest department though has identified and numbered the trees that are to be cut for the project.
The Doboka reserve forest is home to many different species of wild animals. There are various kinds of monkeys, geckos, leopards, deer, hornbills and also hoolock gibbons. Conservationists say they will be in danger if the project goes through. An elephant corridor too runs through Doboka reserve forest and the highway extension work can cause severe damage to it, say activists.