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Saturday, December 04, 2021

Assam eviction drive: Displaced are ‘encroachers’, rehabilitation subject to citizenship status, among others: Govt tells HC

The eviction drive in Dholpur on September 23 — done to free up land for an agriculture project at Gorukhuti to be carried out by “indigenous” local youths — had turned violent after clashes broke out between the police and protesters.

Written by Tora Agarwala | Guwahati |
Updated: November 5, 2021 5:41:14 pm
The Gauhati High Court had itself registered a suo motu PIL after the violent eviction drive at Sipajhar. (Photo: Twitter/@@himantabiswa)

The Assam government Wednesday told Gauhati High Court that those who had been evicted from Darrang district’s Dholpur area in September were “encroachers” and would only be rehabilitated subject to certain conditions, including citizenship status.

In response to a PIL filed by the Leader of Opposition Debabrata Saikia, the government filed an affidavit, saying that an area of 1,000 bighas (about 134 hectare) of land had been earmarked for relocating the evicted “subject to verification of the status of erosion effected and landless status in their respective original places and districts, citizenship and existing rehabilitation policy of the state”.

In the petition filed by Saikia, it was argued that the evicted families were landless minority people who had migrated from other districts (to Darrang) due to flood and erosion and that they should be rehabilitated.

In response, the affidavit filed by Kamaljeet Sarma, Circle Officer, Sipajhar Revenue Circle, said that this “claim of forced migration” was not true.

“Whenever any family becomes a victim of erosion and becomes landless, they are to report to the revenue Authority. This is recorded in Gara Khahania (erosion) register maintained by the Revenue Circle Authority. A certificate of erosion affected and landless is issued to such genuine landholders displaced by flood or land erosion,” Sarma wrote in the affidavit, arguing that the evicted occupants of Dholpur had “never produced such certificates”.

“They migrated since the land in this area is fertile, they gradually occupied and grabbed large fertile areas. In the garb of being landless, some individuals have also become land grabbers,” the affidavit stated.

It also added that the ‘Rehabilitation Policy for erosion affected families of Assam 2020’ — which recognises the long-standing issue of displacement on account of erosion – does not apply to government land and clearly states that “families occupying government lands as encroachers shall not be eligible for rehabilitation”.

The eviction drive in Dholpur on September 23 — done to free up land for an agriculture project at Gorukhuti to be carried out by “indigenous” local youths — had turned violent after clashes broke out between the police and protesters. It had led to two civilian deaths and scores of injuries.

In October, the High Court had taken suo motu cognisance of the incident after a civil society group Axom Nagarik Samaj had filed a PIL on it. Saikia’s petition, which was clubbed with the suo motu, asked for a “fair and independent investigation in a time-bound manner” to be conducted into the two deaths and scores of injuries reported on September 23. He had also prayed that the court stay “further eviction” and all “consequent action” concerning the setting up of the agricultural project at Gorukhuti.

The Gauhati High Court bench, headed by Chief Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia and Justice Kakheto Sema, heard the matter on November 3. The court noted the state government’s assurance that for the remaining alleged encroachers, “no coercive measure would be adopted as efforts were being made to convince them to move to the demarcated area”.

However, it added, “All the same, as and when such measures are adopted, the petitioner would be at liberty to move an application before this Court.”

The court also granted the state government one week’s time to file a detailed counter affidavit. The next hearing is scheduled for December 14.

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