An evacuation drive began in Assam’s Lakhimpur district on Tuesday to clear 450 hectares of land in Pava reserve forest of alleged encroachment, reported PTI.

The authorities will clear 200 hectares of land in Moghuli village, which has 299 households on Tuesday, while the remaining 250 hectares of land in Adhasona village, with around 200 families, will be cleared the next day, reported PTI.

The eviction drive will displace 500 families, most of them belonging to the Bengali Muslim community, reported the news agency. Over 60 excavators and tractors and 600 security personnel have been deployed for the eviction drive, Lakhimpur Additional Superintendent of Police Runa Neog told PTI.

The residents have claimed that they were given land ownership documents, which the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has rejected.

“The people of these areas have been living here for decades,” Lakhimpur district Secretary of All Assam Minority Students’ Union Anwarul told PTI. “Houses were built under the PMAY [Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana] scheme, Anganwadi centres were built by the state, electricity connection and roads under the MGNREGA [Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act] programme were all made.”

The villagers had also alleged that the demarcation pillar of Pava reserve forest was changed several times, especially since 2017, claiming that arbitrary marking was being done to demarcate the boundary ahead of the eviction drive, reported PTI.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has said that his government is committed to freeing up encroached lands across the state.

“Wherever any illegal encroachment is found, we will do an eviction,” Sarma had said last week. “This government is not here to sit idle. For 365 days up to five years, we will continue our work.”

In December, the Nagaon district administration had started a large-scale eviction drive in four villages to clear plots of government land of alleged encroachment. In September 2021, two residents, including a 12-year-old child, were killed in police firing in the Sipajhar area of Darrang district, during the first massive eviction drive in the state.