At least 800 families, occupying about 4,500 bighas of land, in Assam’s Darrang district were evicted as part of the state government’s drive against “illegal encroachments” on Monday.
Following the drive, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma tweeted: “Continuing our drive against illegal encroachments, I am happy and compliment district administration of Darrang and @assampolice for having cleared about 4500 bigha, by evicting 800 households, demolishing 4 illegal religious structures and a private instn at Sipajhar, Darrang.”
He added that he had inspected such riverine areas “encroached by illegal settlers near Dholpur Shiva Mandir” in June. “I had assured temple mgmt & local people to set up a Manikut, build a guest house & boundary wall. Today’s eviction is aimed at starting community farming by removing encroachment,” he wrote.
Darrang SP Sushanta Biswa Sarma told Indianexpress.com that the drive was carried out between 9 am and 4 pm in Dholpur 1 and Dholpur 3 villages in Sipajhar. “They were all encroachers and almost all moved out without resistance,” he said. The two villages are home primarily to Muslims of Bengali origin.
One of the BJP government’s promises before it came to power for a second term in May was to free government lands from “encroachers”, and allot them to “indigenous landless people” of the state. Similar drives evicted 70 families in Hojai’s Lanka and 25 families in Sonitpur’s Jamugurihat in June.
In Sipajhar, where the eviction took place on Monday, the government plans to implement its multi-crore ‘Garukhuti Project’ (part of the state budget 2021-22), where the freed up land will be used for afforestation and agriculture activities, involving indigenous youth.
Monday’s drive has drawn criticism from Opposition parties as well as human rights activists for evicting people without a proper rehabilitation plan. Locals in the area have alleged that the government has not helped the families in any way, who now have moved to nearby areas along the river. “The administration is telling them to move from there too. But where will they go?” asked Saddam Hussen, a social activist from Sipajhar, who was at the spot. “Since last night, there has been rain and fierce winds… small children, women are huddled together in the midst of all this. Some got the eviction notices the night before, some on the day of the drive and some did not get any notice at all,” he alleged.
When asked about the notice, Darrang DC Prabhati Thaosen said that the people had “lots of time”. “The committee to look into the agriculture and development project in the area was constituted in June itself. We got a request from the agriculture department to declare the area as community agricultural land, so they [the people] had lots of time,” she said. She added that the administration would do “whatever they can on humanitarian grounds” and that a medical team and facilities for running water and latrines would be provided to the displaced.
However, locals have alleged that no help has reached them. “There are no medical teams, no running water, no toilets… not even tarpaulin to cover them. This is completely inhuman,” Rejaul Karim, the president of All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU), who visited the spot earlier on Tuesday, said.
“We are not against the agricultural project – in fact, we had many meetings with the chief minister regarding this and all we had asked for was proper rehabilitation. But this is a human rights violation and targeted against a particular community,” he said.
Congress MP Abdul Khaleque responded to the development by tweeting out his letter to the Gauhati High Court during the June eviction. He wrote: “Considering the Covid-19 pandemic, a full bench of Hon’ble Gauhati High Court headed by the Chief Justice, vide its order dated 10.05.2021, has ordered that any decree for eviction/dispossession or demolition should remain in abeyance.” Adding that the evictions are a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, he said: “I always oppose eviction without a proper rehabilitation plan. Darrang eviction is inhuman.”
Akhil Gogoi’s Raijor Dal also criticised the eviction drive. In a video statement, party secretary Ashraful Islam said that they were not opposing the agricultural revolution. “But in the name of agricultural revolution, the poor communities which have been living there for generations working in the agriculture sector itself are being evicted. Is this revolution?” he asked.