Image: Utpal Parashar / Hindustan Times
The Gauhati High Court put an end to the unregulated divisive campaign being conducted by Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswas Sarma and the BJP party in the state of Assam. On January 24, 2023, a High Court bench comprising of Justices A. M. Bujor Barua and R. Phukan issued an order requiring the Revenue and Disaster Management Department, Government of Assam, to resettle the remaining families who were rendered homeless in the eviction drive conducted at Dhalpur, in the Darrang District of Assam. The Court, thus, rejected the saffronise agenda being promoted by Sarma, of targeting the Bengali Muslims and terming “illegal encroachers” or “suspicious citizens”, and awarded justice to the destitute families.
This above-mentioned order was passed by the High Court in the PIL filled by Leader of Opposition of Assam Assembly, Debabrata Saikia, Congress MLA from Nazira Constituency. The said PIL had urged the court to uphold the rights of its Indian citizens in accordance to the rights and protections guaranteed to us. Prayers were made in the said petition for the court to assail the Cabinet decision of the Government of Assam regarding setting up of an agro farm/model project at Sipajhar in the Darrang district of Assam. (Prayer 1 and 3). According to Prayer No. 2 and prayer No. 4 of the petition, it was urged that compensation must be paid to those people who may be evicted pursuant to the aforesaid process under the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy, 2007, the updated Resettlement Framework being followed by the Flood River Erosion Management Agency of Assam (FREMAA), the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, and the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Rules, 2015.
The petitioner had also urged for seeking for a consideration of the application on behalf of the people who are evicted for allotment and settlement. (Prayer 5 and 6)
In regards to the Petition’s prayer urging the court to assail the Cabinet decision of the Government of Assam regarding setting up of an agro farm/model project at Sipajhar in the Darrang district of Assam, the court commented that “no material nor any ground could be pointed out to enable the Court to arrive at any such conclusion so as to interfere with a Cabinet decision of the Government of Assam to set up an agro farm/model project at Sipajhar.” (Para 6)
While hearing the arguments made by the counsel, the court noted that more than 700 people were made homeless during the Dhalpur eviction drive in 2021. While about 600 families have already been resettled by giving alternative plots of land, the remaining approximately 100 families has not been provided with the adequate rehabilitation.
“We have taken note of a statement made by Mr. J Handique, learned counsel for the Revenue and Disaster Management Department of the Government of Assam from the records and information provided to him by the departmental officials that approximately about 700 families were affected in the eviction that had been carried forward pursuant to the aforesaid Cabinet decision that may have been taken. A further statement is made upon information being provided by the departmental officials that in the meantime about 600 families have already been resettled by giving alternative plots of land. What remains is that the balance of about approximately 100 families has not been provided with the adequate rehabilitation.” (Para 9)
Pertaining to this matter, the Court directed the Deputy Commissioner of Darrang to rehabilitate those remaining 100 families within six months of their application. The Honorable High Court bench stated, “We require such other families from the balance of approximately 100 families who are said to have not been rehabilitated to make their individual applications before the Deputy Commissioner, Darrang providing in detail all materials that may support their claim for allotment of any alternative land for the purpose of rehabilitation. We further provide that in the event any such application is made, the Deputy Commissioner shall pass individual reasoned orders within a period of six months from the date of receipt of such applications from the individual applicants. In doing so, the Deputy Commissioner shall also give the individual applicants an opportunity of hearing and also allow them to produce any relevant materials that they may intend to rely upon to substantiate their claim for allotment of land for the purpose of rehabilitation.” (Para 13)
The order can be read here.
Massive eviction drives and the communally divisive propaganda of Himanta Biswas
On December 26, 2022 around 40 families in Kanara Satra in Assam’s Barpeta were evicted due to alleged illegal encroachment. Only a week prior to this, another major eviction drive was carried out in the state at Batadrava Than in Nagaon district. The eviction drive in Nagaon was to clear 1,000 bighas (1.35 sq km) land which ended up evicting 359 families. A Congress MLA, Sherman Ali Ahmed was detained after he staged a protest against the demolition and demanded rehabilitation of those evicted.
The Court’s decision was a significant setback for Himanta Biswas Sarma’s government. On September 23, 2021 two residents of Dhalpur were killed by police firing during an eviction drive targeting a minority Muslim community in Assam. One of them, Maynal Haque, was protesting against the evictions but 12-year-old teenager Shaikh Farid had nothing to do with the protests. Sabrang India’s sister organization, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) is before the Gauhati High Court seeking justice for these two victims in two separate writ petitions. In Farid’s case, the State claimed that the police fired in self defence. While the government’s eviction drive in the name of illegal encroachers cost two innocent lives and left hundreds of families under open sky in the mist of flood and shivering cold, the Honourable Court recognized citizens’ prayers and set up a path towards ensuring justice.
Himanta Biswas Sarma has openly targeted and excluded the Bengali Muslims of Assam from receiving any benefits that are guaranteed to the people of Assam. On November 14, 2022, Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma had ceremonially launched Mission Basundhara 2.0, a flagship scheme of government to redress all kinds of land issues. This scheme is one under which eight land-related services would be provided to people in the digital mode. In an announcement made earlier, Himanta Biswa Sarma had appealed to the people of the state who have land issues to settle to apply under Mission Basundhara 2.0. While this could have been an effort towards ensuring that everyone gets their right, the CM announced that under this scheme, the “encroachers” will not be entertained.