By Rina Chandran
MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Two people were killed and about 20 injured in the eastern Indian state of Assam, when protesters clashed with police over evictions of encroachers around a wildlife park.
About 300 families in the buffer zone of Kaziranga National Park were asked to leave their homes after the state high court ordered evictions to help prevent poaching of the one-horned rhinoceros.
Police said they fired in the air and burst teargas shells on Monday when they were pelted with stones by protesters.
"We have been residing in this area for decades, and all of a sudden the government told us to vacate," said Rafiq Ali, a community leader in Banderdubi village, one of the three villages that was ordered to be cleared.
"The security forces fired at us," he said.
Assam police chief Mukesh Sahay said two protesters, including a woman, were killed. About 20 policemen and villagers were injured in the clash, he said.
Scarcity of land has brought the competing needs of wildlife and humans into conflict across India, where land is increasingly sought for development and industrial projects.
The 430 sq km (166 sq mile) Kaziranga park is home to the world's largest concentration of the one-horned rhinoceros.
Security personnel used excavators and elephants to mow down settlers' mud huts about 200 km (125 miles) from Guwahati city, activists said. The villagers said they had not been offered adequate compensation by the state for relocating.
"The government has promised to provide financial compensation within 30 to 40 days of vacating the area," said Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
"The violent resistance from the encroachers was unwarranted," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Activists and opposition parties said the state should have paid the settlers compensation first.
"The government should have first provided compensation before asking them to leave," Tarun Gogoi, former Assam chief minister and leader of the opposition Congress party, said.
"This is nothing but a gross rights violation," he said.
(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)