GUWAHATI — Assam’s Land Policy, 2019, framed by BJP-led government in Assam and tabled in the state assembly on November 28 (it was cleared by the Assam state cabinet on November 13) tribal belt and grazing lands and thereafter evict 13 million (130 lakhs) Indian citizens.
Among these are 7 million (70 lakhs) Assamese Muslims and 6 million (60 lakhs) Bengali-speaking Hindu populations from the riverine, grazing and forest areas of the state. In furtherance of its overall ideological game plan to disenfranchise and invisibilise India’s minorities, the plot can be spotted in points 1.11 and 1.12 of the Land Policy 2019, exclusively sourced by Sabrangindia.
Plans were afoot to debate and pass the policy were stalled on December 4 until vociferous protests from the Congress members in the state assembly on Thursday (December 4) thwarted the objectives of the treasury benches. These consistent protests compelled the treasury benches to retreat from their intent, for the time being. Two documents spearheaded under the present BJP run dispensation in the state, the Brahma committee report, 2017 and the tabled Land Policy-2019 provides for this land transfer.
Without defining who the indigenous peoples of Assam are, deliberately excluding sections who have toiled in the state from the turn of the 20th century, both the Brahma Committee report followed by the Land Policy 2019 provide for a change of user of these lands. Lands in the tribal belt blocks and other government land (char riverine land) are proposed to be vacated and “re-distributed” among the other indigenous people of the state. Hence, about 70 lakh Assamese Muslims and 60 lakh Bengali-speaking Hindus face mass evictions and homelessness if the policy is allowed to be passed in the Assembly.
At present there are at least 35 lakhs of people living in char (riverine) area, out of them 95% are Muslim. They have no land pattas as once the river is washed away (and this is a regular phenomenon) their lands and their pattas (legal documents over the land) stand rejected. There is another 35 lakh strong Muslim population living in areas outside the riverine area but on government lands, periodic patta land or grazier (grazing) and forest lands.
The population is marginal farming and fishing and lives a hand to mouth existence. Not only Assam’s Muslims but Bengali Hindus, who have been exclusively kept out of the preview of definition of ‘indigenous peoples’ in Assam will become vulnerable. Almost 60 lakhs Bengali Hindus, living in various refuge colonies established on grazing land, the tribal belt and blocks of the state will now face eviction.
Already hit and traumatized by the six year long exclusivist citizenship scrutiny process, under the NRC updating scheme, the poor sections of the Assamese people, Bengali speaking Hindus and Assamese and Bengali speaking Muslims now face the threat of a state driven eviction, bordering on invisibisation.
Both documents, the Brahma Committee Report, 2017 and the Land Policy, 2019 can be accessed below.
The Land Policy 2019 debated yesterday states
1.11. In permanent char areas settlement of land shall be made with the deserving landless indigenous person as per Land Policy. For this purpose, cadastral survey in char areas would be made on priority basis in a phased manner before such settlement in char area.
1.12. In case of temporary or semi permanent chars, the area fit for cultivation shall be determined and it will be considered for temporary use for the indigenous cultivators for agricultural purposed only for a particular agricultural cycle. (RDM-15023/7/2018-LS-REV/20, ECF No. 77629/2018/20 Revenue and Disaster Management Department, Dispur)
What transpired in the Assam Assembly yesterday
The much debated land policy, 2019 of Government of Assam was finalised by Revenue & Disaster Management Department on November 13, 2019 and was tabled in Assam Legislative Assembly on November 28, 2019. Though the session of the Assam state legislative assembly has been on every day since November 28, the opposition benches were silent on the issue until yesterday. Faced with grievances and protests from masses of people across the state, the opposition was finally compelled to take a stand on the contentious Land Policy-2019.
Strong opposition to the proposed Land Policy was raised in the assembly just after question hour, by a member of Congress legislature party, Sherman Ali Ahmed as a point of order. Referring to the issue, Sherman Ali Ahmed said, “Land Policy- 2019, mentions land allocation only for “indigenous peoples”. The definition of indigenous people has not been, so far, finalised (excluding toiling populations of Muslim/Hindu and Bengali origin). Without this definition in place, the Land Policy- 2019 has been repeatedly made mention of the fact that the ownership of land will be exclusively reserved for the indigenous people. This is a violation of Constitution”.
When Sherman Ali Ahmed tried to raise the issue as a point of order the Speaker, Hitendra Nath Goswami barred him from delivering his speech as, in the Speaker’s view, it did not fall under the rule and procedure of Assam Legislative Assembly! The other Congress members including Debabrata Saikia, the leader of the opposition, Rokybul Hussain, the deputy leader of the opposition, Congress Legislature, Ajanta Neog, Rupjyoti Kurmi, Kamalakhya Dey Purakayastha, Zakir Hussain Sikdar, Nurul Huda all came forward in support of Sherman Ali Ahmed and requested the speaker to allow him to speak on the issue, given its urgency. However, the Speaker still barred him from speaking.
Members of the treasury benches were also vociferous in their opposition to Sherman Ali Ahmed and the Assam Legislative Assembly faced a chaotic situation. Nothing could be heard due to slogans shouting from treasury and opposition benches. The speaker in chair, Hitendra Nath Goswami then expelled Sherman Ali Ahmed from the house for the day. An agitated Sherman Ali Ahmed refused to leave the house, the Speaker then ordered the marshal to forcibly take away Sherman Ali from the house. When the marshal forcefully took him out of the Assembly, Ali slept in the entrance of the treasury bench with placards. The Congress members requested the speaker not to take such action to stifle discussion and dissent.
When things calmed down, the issue was, once again raised by Rokybul Hussain, deputy leader of the opposition and Congress legislature party. He said, that “the present minister in the BJP government, Himanta Biswa Sarma has said on the floor of the Assam Assembly on October 17, 2010 that the people who were living in Assam before March 25, 1971 are all indigenous people of Assam along with their descendants.”
Further citing records of the Assembly, Rokybul Hussain said, “Then opposition leader and AGP legislature who is Industries Minister in the present Government had said that they are respectful for the Assam Accord. As per Assam Accord all people including their descendants who were living in Assam before 1971, all are indigenous people. However, the presently tabled 2019 land policy is ambiguous on this question: without proper definition of who is indigenous, land cannot be reserved for indigenous people.”
The speaker then asked Hussain to submit all documentary records but barred him from speaking, again. The issue again led to further turmoil in the Assembly. With the heated arguments that followed between the treasury and opposition benches, the Speaker suspended discussions on the issue. He said, “the land policy (that has been) tabled in the Assam Legislative assembly cannot be discussed in this session. The matter will be discussed seriously in coming session of Assam Legislative Assembly which will meet again in January or February, 2020.” After this assurance from the speaker, tempers in the house returned to normal.
Soon after the clearance of the Land Policy- 2019 by the state cabinet on November 13, the Revenue and Disaster Management Department has already started with a massive cadastral mapping exercise all over the state especially in the riverine areas of Assam, where large sections of indigenous Muslims, from the first decade of the 20th century have been living and tilling char lands. In several revenue circle areas, the process of receiving applications for land allotments from indigenous people has been started. The purpose seems to be to rehabilitate large sections of the indigenous population here, at the cost of lands tilled by the Muslim minority and after evicting them, through the process of first converting the land use of these entire stretches of riverine, eroded char lands to Government land under the newly changed rules. Huge numbers of the Muslim minority, living here since the first decade of the 20th century face the threat of eviction if this Land policy- 2019 comes into force.
Assam, already reeling under the turmoil of the citizenship crisis faces more upheavals in the months to come.
Full text of the Brahma Committee Report, 2017 can be read here