In a land where militants invariably scare investors away, productive agricultural lands are not required for SEZs. They are needed to set up bases for armed forces that keep extremists quiet enough to invite investments.
This is probably what the Assam government wanted to convey when it had over a month back served notices to the residents of Matikutuni and Pachanipara villages near Guwahati for acquisition of 445 bighas of primarily paddy field for "public use". As it transpired, the acquisition move was to facilitate the Assam Rifles to set up a base.
Matikutuni and Pachanipara, sited some 40 km from Guwahati, falls under the Palasbari revenue circle of Kamrup (Metropolitan) district. These villages sustain 240 families, many of them Muslims and indigenous communities such as Rabhas.
The Mehnati Krishak Jagaran Samiti and the Assam Kisan Sabha (AKS) have been opposing the government move to deprive them of one of the most fertile agricultural blocks in the State. According to senior AKS member Khemraj Chettri, land in these two villages have a "natural protection mechanism" against both flood and drought helping the farmers to go for multi-cropping with rich dividends.
While Kamrup (Metropolitan) district officials confirmed the notification issued to the villagers for land acquisition, deputy commissioner Avinash Joshi could not be contacted as he was away in northern India.
The notification has given the Opposition Asom Gana Parishad some fodder to rail against the "anti-people" Congress government headed by Tarun Gogoi. "It's deplorable that a government against acquiring agricultural lands for SEZs wants to deprive villagers of prime cultivable land to set up a base for the armed forces," AGP legislator Ramendra Narayan Kalita said.
The villagers, Kalita added, were apprehensive on two counts-being robbed of their only source of income and having a none-too-popular Assam Rifles as neighbour. The paramilitary force has been at the center of numerous controversies vis-à-vis human rights. The most notable was the alleged rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama that sparked the anti-Armed Forces Act demonstrations in Manipur.
The Assam Rifles, meanwhile, clarified it had nothing to do with the land acquisition controversy. A spokesman was quoted as saying that the force did not specify any location while seeking land for its third base in Assam. It has a battalion each at Haflong in North Cachar Hills district and another at Lokra in Sonitpur district.