Unrestrained influx of Bangladeshis, coupled with massive transfer of land facilitated by a corrupt bureaucrat-politician nexus, has led to alarming land alienation among indigenous communities in Assam in the past several decades. This in turn has threatened not only the safety, security and very identity of the indigenous communities, but also the very entity of Assam and its entire geographical stretch.
This has been pointed out in the interim report of Committee appointed by the BJP-led government of Sarbananda Sonowal, submitted earlier this week. The Committee in its interim report also recommended a slew of measures including an immediate survey and settlement operation, to protect land of the indigenous people. “Hundreds and thousands” of indigenous landholders and proprietors have not received their land pattas even after 53 years of the last Survey and Settlement Operations carried out in 1964, it pointed out.
The Committee, which described illegal Bangladeshi migration as a “constant threat to the very existence of the indigenous people of Assam,” also called for a repatriation treaty between India and Bangladesh so that the illegal migrants were detected and deported to their country of origin before the situation aggravated further.
The Committee for Protection of Land Rights of Indigenous People of Assam, constituted on February 6, 2017, is headed by former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Hari Sankar Brahma. Other members of the Committee are senior advocate AK Bhattacharyya, historian and scholar Srikumar Dohutia, Gauhati University Dean Faculty of Law Prof RC Borpatragohain, social worker Ajoy Kumar Dutta, former bureaucrat Rohini Kumar Baruah and Santanu Bharali, the last being legal advisor to the Assam chief minister.
Constitution of the Committee also emanates from the slogan that the BJP and its allies AGP and BPF had raised during the 2016 state assembly elections, in which they had promised to protect the “jaati-maati-bheti” (identity, land and homestead) in the backdrop of Bangladeshi influx to Assam.
While the Committee has identified three specific areas responsible for land alienation of the indigenous people of the state, it pointed at illegal migration as the “principal factor” responsible for causing “galloping changes” in the demographic composition of Assam.
“The principal factor causing galloping changes in the demographic composition of Assam is the unrestrained infiltration of illegal Bangladeshi migrants through the open Indo-Bangladesh international borders. These Bangladeshis like swarms of ants have spread in every nook and corner of Assam and grabbed land wherever any vacant government land – be they khas/waste land, reserved forest land, village grazing reserves (VGRs) or professional grazing reserves (PGRs), char lands or water bodies or hills, tribal belts/blocks or satra land – is available,” the interim report said.
Describing this as “the most dangerous phenomenon” causing threats to the safety and security of the very identity of the indigenous people of Assam, the Committee said it was also responsible for endangering “the very entity of Assam and its entire geographical stretch.”
To drive home its point, the Committee referred to certain recent incidents in which “gangs of illegal Bangladeshi migrants armed with dangerous/lethal weapons have attacked indigenous/Assamese villagers of Sipajhar, Mayong, Mukalmua Hajo areas, particularly on vast spreads of char lands, either by displacing the indigenous farm-owners or by grabbing the new/vacant char lands.” It also referred to several other instances where alleged illegal migrants had set up new villages by “grabbing” vacant land in different parts of the state.
“Illegal migration is a constant threat to the very existence of the indigenous people of Assam, as also to that of Assam itself. If this massive infiltration is not checked immediately by (a) sealing off the unplugged borders, and (b) by detecting and deporting them through a Repatriation Treaty signed between India and Bangladesh, the situation will further aggravate,” the Committee in its interim report said.
Nexus of corrupt bureaucrats, politicians
The Brahma Committee, which has carried out an in-depth study by visiting 23 of the 29 districts, also blamed a nexus of corrupt bureaucrats and politicians, who, by taking advantage of the existing loopholes in various laws and rules, had managed to transfer huge tracts of land, mostly belonging to the indigenous communities of the state.
“There has been large-scale transfer of agricultural land to non-agriculturist classes, especially to the trading class. Rich trading and commercial houses have started purchasing huge extent of agricultural land from the poor rural peasants, either by offering high price or through direct allotment/settlement from the government, or by giving other inducements,” the Committee said.
The Committee also held the state government responsible for this trend of land transfer that has had adverse effect on the indigenous people. “There are instances where the state government, in tandem with certain corrupt bureaucrats and political leaders, often taking advantage of the loopholes in various laws, rules and circulars etc, has managed to facilitate transfer of huge tracts of land by contravening existing laws of the state,” it said.
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