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Siliguri: People living in the forest villages that fall along the proposed railway route between West Bengal and Sikkim have demanded recognition and rehabilitation before Indian Railways start working on the project.

The railway line is proposed to run from Sevoke in Bengal to Rongpoo in Sikkim.

According to Saumitra Ghosh, north Bengal chapter convener of the National Forum for Forest People and Forest Workers (NFFPFW), there are as many as 24 forest villages that fall within the proposed rail project area.

“The estimated population of these forest villages is nearly 40,000. They are likely to be robbed of home and livelihood unless proper rehabilitation and compensation are arranged for them by the railways,” Ghosh told a news conference in Siliguri today taking several forest village dwellers by his side.

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, which popularly known as the Forest Rights Act, makes it mandatory to get the consent of the forest villagers for any activity in the notified forest villages.

But according to Shankar Sharma, a forest village dweller and NFFPFW activist, the problem with most of the forest villages in Darjeeling-Kalimpong hills is that the Bengal government has not notified them till date.

“Unless these villages are recognised as forest villages, people living in there will not be legally empowered to demand compensation and rehabilitation from the railways. Hence, our demand is that the state forest department must notify the forest villagers at the earliest,” he said.

Sharma said that they will be compelled to launch a massive agitation if the forest villagers are evicted for the railway project without consent and without providing compensation and rehabilitation.

The assertion comes ahead on Wednesday’s meeting between the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and railway officials at Lalkuthi in Darjeeling. The meeting is scheduled to discuss GTA’s demand for over-ground railway stations at Teesta Bazar and Malli, shelving the plan to use dynamite for laying the railway line, etc. [READ: GTA puts a spanner in Bengal-Sikkim maiden rail route]

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