Gauhati HC seeks affidavit from govt on Assam eviction drive violence
“Khoon zameen pe gir gaya (blood has been spilt),” rued the Gauhati high court on Thursday as it directed the Assam government to file a detailed affidavit on last month’s clashes during an eviction drive at Sipajhar in Darrang district which claimed two lives and injured nearly 20 others, including 11 policemen.
A bench of Chief Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia and Justice Soumitra Saikia asked the state government to file a detailed affidavit in three weeks, explaining the circumstances leading up to the incident.
“It was an unfortunate incident...a big tragedy. We will ask for a detailed affidavit from the state. The issue is (that) three lives (were) lost. Khoon zameen pe gir gaya,” observed the bench, as it admitted a petition filed by Congress legislature party leader Debabrata Saikia and another suo motu (registered on its own) petition.
“This is a big tragedy...very unfortunate. Those who are guilty, if at all, must be punished...no doubt about that. Not just in this but in one or two other incidents as well,” added the bench, asking the Assam government to make its stand clear on the 2007 National Relief and Rehabilitation Policy.
The Assam government ordered a judicial inquiry on the violent eviction drive at Dholpur 3 village on September 23 where clashes erupted while police were trying to forcibly remove settlers from government land. The deceased included a 12-year-old boy and a 33-year-old man.
A photographer, who was engaged by the district administration and was seen stomping on an injured villager in a viral video, has been arrested. Three residents of the area have also been arrested for instigating violence during the drive.
During the court hearing on Thursday, state’s advocate general Debojit Saikia claimed that there was an “unprovoked attack on the police” resulting in clashes between the security forces and occupants during an eviction drive in villages at Sipajhar on September 23. He said that the plan was to evict 125 families, but nearly 20,000 people, including outsiders with doubtful credentials, gathered at the site and attacked the policemen, which in turn led to retaliatory action.
The advocate general also said that the petitioner in the case, being the leader of opposition in the state assembly, has a different agenda and should rather fight political fights at political fora, outside the courts.
The court, however, told the law officer that it cannot stop an individual from approaching the court just because he or she happens to be a political person. It added that Debabrata Saikia has also disclosed his identity in his petition and did not conceal anything.
Appearing for the Congress leader, senior advocate Chander Uday Singh submitted that the state is liable to pay compensation for the “ex facie illegal actions of the police” and requested the bench to direct the criminal investigation department to conduct an independent investigation into the matter as well.
Assisted by advocate Talha Abdul Rehman, Singh also adduced several policies of the Centre and state government to ensure resettlement and rehabilitation of those affected by floods in the state, contending that the cabinet decision regarding the eviction drive must also be put in the public domain.
The next date of hearing on the petitions is November 3.
“The court took the matter seriously and directed the state government to respond on its policy regarding evictions and rehabilitation. The court rejected the advocate general’s contention that the petition was politically motivated since I am the leader of opposition in assembly,” petitioner Saikia said later.
In his PIL, Saikia had sought court’s intervention on conducting mandatory social impact assessment and ensure that the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, is followed in the state.
The petition mentioned that those who were being evicted at Dholpur were from marginalised and socio-economically disadvantaged sections who were forced to migrate due to floods and erosions.
The eviction drive at Dholpur was carried out following a state government plan to start an ambitious agricultural project on nearly 77,000 ‘bighas’ of government land.
The petition, however, challenged the eviction stating that it was “arbitrary, violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution, violative of parts IX and IXA of the Constitution which requires democratization of economic and social planning, in contravention of Panchayat Act, 1994”.
It added that on September 23 there was use of “excessive, illegal and disproportionate force and firearms by police officials, allegedly in response to the protests against the eviction drive”.