Assam ordinance on land conversion for industries raises concerns on threat to land rights of indigenous people
There is no clarity yet on whether MSMEs willing to set up industries will have to seek environment and pollution clearances.Updated: Jul 01, 2020 16:19 IST
Assam government’s decision to allow conversion of land without clearances for the setting up industries in the state has sparked a row and has drawn flak from opposition parties.
On Monday, the state cabinet had approved an ordinance that allowed micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to set up industries by only submitting a self-declaration.
“In a historic and far-reaching decision to ease out the process of setting up industries in Assam, the state cabinet has approved an ordinance today. Now, anyone will be able to set up industry in Assam just by submitting a self-declaration,” industries minister Chandra Mohan Patowary had tweeted on Monday.
“No permission, clearance, or licence will be required for three years. Land will also be deemed converted for industrial purposes. Such bold and advantageous change is expected to accelerate the industrialisation process in Assam,” the minister had added.
Though more details of the ordinance, which is yet to be approved by Governor Professor Jagdish Mukhi, are not available, apprehensions have surfaced on whether it will lead to the rapid conversion of agricultural land as well as those in tribal belts for industrial purposes without any checks and balances.
“This ordinance will severely hurt Assam’s rural economy and the state’s farmers. Not many Assamese have means to procure land and set up industries and the benefit of this ordinance will be reaped by those from outside,” said Debabrata Saikia, a Congress legislator and the leader of opposition in the Assam Assembly.
“Last December, when protests against Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) was at its peak, the state government had announced that it would enact two laws to protect the land rights of indigenous people. But this ordinance runs contrary to that assurance. We demand that it is repealed immediately,” Saikia said.
He also expressed concerns about health and environmental hazards.
There is no clarity yet on whether MSMEs willing to set up industries will have to seek environment and pollution clearances.
“We have around one lakh MSMEs in Assam and the ordinance could seem aimed at them benefitting from nearly Rs 6,000 crore expected to come to the state as part of the Centre’s Rs 3 lakh crore stimulus package for the sector,” said Nilay Dutta, a senior advocate.
“But, existing MSMEs don’t need land. We welcome steps taken to ease setting up new industries, but when they set up business in agricultural land without any clearances, all protection provided to indigenous farmers will disappear in a flash. What was the grave urgency for this move?” Dutta asked.
The All Assam Students Union (AASU), a potent political force in the state, said that the ordinance was anti-indigenous people as it goes against the recommendations given by the committee on Clause VI of the Assam Accord and also contrary to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s promise of protecting the state’s maati (land).
“Allowing industries to set up without any clearance from the revenue department solely on the basis of a self-declaration form will hit the land rights of Assamese people and make the state a playground for industrialists from outside. We want this ordinance revoked at the earliest,” said Lurinjyoti, Gogoi, general secretary, AASU.
Prodyut Bora, the chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), alleged that the move would lead to a largescale land grab by “moneybags” and all lands located on both sides of national and state highways would be bought and converted into industries.
Bibhab Talukdar, the founder of Guwahati-based wildlife non-governmental organisation (NGO), Aaranyak, too, took exception to the state government’s “hurriedly-conceived move”.
“The ordinance appears to be framed hurriedly without assessing Assam’s ability to grow economically without further damaging its ecosystem, goods, and services. An unscientific way of converting agricultural land for industries calls for an immediate re-look. If an industrialist wants to set up an industry in key wilderness spots in the state such as Deepor Beel, located on the south-western part of Guwahati, won’t it compromise the conservation of pristine forests, rich and diverse wildlife and the environment? The state government has a lot to answer for,” said Talukdar.