The Gauhati High Court has passed an interim order protecting over 200 families from eviction and coercive action in Assam. The families, all residents of Bachashimalu village, that falls under the jurisdiction of Dhekiajuli Police Station in Sonitpur district of Assam, were served notices on November 15, 2021, asking them to vacate their homes on December 15.
That’s when they moved court and submitted that relief had been granted by the same court in 1989 to 81 residents facing a similar situation, and that it must therefore be extended to them as well as they were descendants of these 81 residents who had been granted the land for settlement in 1978 by the State Government as they were landless.
In its interim order the court recorded the petitioner’s submission, “It is contended by the petitioners that earlier 81 persons as petitioners approached this Court in Civil Rule No. 867/1982 against such eviction notices issued under Rule 18 (2)(3) of the Assam Land and Revenue Regulation for their eviction from government land of No. 1 Basasimalu village, Mouza-Barchalla, district-Darrang involved in the case, praying amongst others for settlement of said government land with them which was under their possession in terms of the Communication No. RSS.96/71/25 dated 29.11.1978 issued by the State Government in the Revenue (Settlement Department), Settlement Branch regarding settlement of land to the persons who does not possess any land in their names.”
The court recorded previous proceedings in the matter, “It is placed that by the judgment and order dated 21.07.1989, a Division Bench of this Court disposed of the said Civil Rule No. 867/1982 with the observation that the petitioners of said Civil Rule No. 867/1982 shall not be evicted till the question of settlement of the land with them as per the policy decision referred in the said judgment is decided by the appropriate authority, if they are in possession of the land involved in that case as on the date of the said judgment i.e. 21.07.1989.” The court further recorded, “It is also stated by the petitioners that after the said judgment dated 21.07.1989, the respondents have settled government land with some of the petitioners of said Civil Rule No. 867/1982 under their possession and that the present petitioners are the descendants of those 81 petitioners involved in Civil Rule No. 867/1982.”
The petitioners have also made a representation before the Minister of Revenue and Disaster Management informing them of the above. Therefore, the Court adjourned the matter to February 2, 2022, and ordered, “On the next date fixed, (i) the Deputy Commissioner, Sonitpur, Tezpur, respondent No. 2; (ii) the Additional Deputy Commissioner (Revenue), Sonitpur, Tezpur, respondent No. 3 and (iii) the Circle Officer, Dhekiajuli Revenue Circle, Dhekiajuli, Sonitpur shall apprise the Court the reasons for issuance of the impugned eviction notices dated 15.11.2021 to the petitioners issued by the concerned Circle Officer.”
Most significantly, the court extended to the petitioners, protection from any coercive action in the interim period. The court said, “In the interim, it is directed that the respondents shall not take any coercive measure against the petitioners in terms of said eviction notices under No. DRC-13/2017-18/2056 dated 15.11.2021 issued by the Circle Officer, Dhekiajuli Revenue Circle, Dhekiajuli, Sonitpur without disposing of the said representation of the petitioners that was received by the Circle Officer, Dhekiajuli Revenue Circle, Dhekiajuli, Sonitpur on 03.12.2021.”
The entire order may be read here:
Brief background of evictions in Assam
As we have reported previously, the Assam state government has been conducting an eviction drive to rid public land of people it calls “encroachers”. They say this land will then be handed over to indigenous youth for agricultural purposes. As part of this eviction drive hundreds of families have been evicted from Gorukhuti, Phuhurtuli and other nearby villages that fall in the Sipajhar circle of the Dhalpur region of Darrang district.
On September 20, around 200 families were forcibly evicted from their homes in Phuhurtuli in Dhalpur. It is noteworthy that 49 families nearby had been evicted from the same area on June 7. Then came the fateful day of September 23. At midnight residents of Gorukhuti were sent notice of eviction via Whatsapp, in complete contravention of set procedure and law. The next morning, they were thrown out of their modest huts, with little time to gather together their meagre belongings. District officials had arrived with armed police personnel, and when people protested the injustice, police opened fire. Two people, Maynal Haque and Sheikh Farid, were killed in the firing.
While Maynal Haque was a daily wage earner, responsible for feeding his family of elderly parents, a wife and three small children, Sheikh Farid was a 12-year-old boy returning home from a nearby Aadhaar Card centre. What was also shocking was how, again in complete contravention of set procedure, police did not shoot people below the knee. In fact, victims and survivors sustained bullet wounds to their head, face, chest and stomach.