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Tue. Dec 6th, 2022
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Land rights are key to protecting the identity and culture of indigenous and tribal people. The United Nations “recognises indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands, territories and resources, including to those traditionally held by them but now controlled by others as a matter of fact and also of law”.
In the multiethnic state of Assam, a vast number people from indigenous communities have been unable to assert legal claims over the land that supports their life and livelihood in the absence of proper documents. Over the years, this lacuna has been exploited by illegal immigrants and other vested interests to usurp the land of the natives.
A state-wide anti-encroachment drive is already underway. It was during such an eviction drive when violence broke out in northern Assam’s Darrang district in September last year. Thousands of bighas of land were cleared of encroachments to allow local youth to carry out farming and afforestation under the Rs 9.6-crore Garukhuti Multipurpose Agriculture Project.
An Assam government-constituted committee headed by former Chief Election Commissioner of India (CEC) Hari Shankar Brahma had in 2017 highlighted that nearly 90 percent of the native people out of 3.4 crore population do not possess land pattas (permanent land ownership documents), and as many as 8 lakh families from indigenous communities are completely landless.
The state government earlier this week announced it is working toward providing land rights to indigenous people based on self-certification. Self-certification means one has to state that he/she has been residing on the land for the last three generations, chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said.
The move is part of ‘Mission Basundhara 2.0′ scheme aimed at conferring ownership rights to occupancy tenants, ensuring settlement of land for indigenous special cultivators, settlement of hereditary land of tribal communities, composite land transfer service and online payment of land revenue among others.
The CM has made it clear that no hasty decision will be taken in “doubtful cases” about claims made over any land through the self-certification process. Data from the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is yet to be notified, and other sources will be considered for taking any decision in such cases, he said.
However, the problem is that the August 2019 final NRC list that excluded the names of 19 lakh applicants is itself seen as faulty. Earlier this year, Sarma had called for a review, saying that the exercise to weed out illegal immigrants should be conducted afresh.
Another issue flagged by CM Sarma is that char areas – sandbars on the Brahmaputra rivers –will not be covered under Mission Basundhara 2.0 due to ecological reasons. “There will be neither any eviction nor settlement in the chars as of now,” he said.
Char areas are perceived to be occupied by illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. But the Assam Jatiya Paridhad, a party that was floated just ahead of the 2021 assembly elections, claims that even some Assamese Muslim families live in the char areas.
“Our only demand is that every countryman must be given land rights, but not foreigners. This is not about Hindus or Muslims. There are many Assamese Muslims who live in char areas. The government under the leadership of chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is trying to communalise the people of the state,” AJP leader Lurinjyoti Gogoi told reporters in Guwahati on Friday.
It is yet to be seen how the BJP-led state government reacts to this allegation and takes appropriate action to protect the land rights of genuine citizens.

With inputs from agencies

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