Schools, toilets: How Assam govt ‘legitimises’ land-grab by ‘illegal migrants’
The Assam government served eviction notice in 1994 to settlers occupying 22,905 acres of public land in Sipajhar, about 50km northeast of Guwahati.
The settlers, alleged Bangladeshi immigrants, stayed put. And in more than two decades, 32 government schools, three health centres and toilets under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan came up in the area.
A similar story unfolded in Hatimuria, about 40km east of Guwahati, with more than 300 houses added to the area in the past two years. The settlers were provided solar lights that neighbours belonging to indigenous groups were allegedly denied.
These are just two of many such examples, said Prabrajan Virodhi Manch (PVM), a group of legal experts monitoring illegal immigration in Assam, an emotive issue in a state where local animosity against illegal Bangladeshi immigrants runs deep.
Many in Assam believe the indigenous communities would be wiped out by Bangladesh-origin people who account for the bulk of the state’s 34% Muslims. This fear triggered the anti-foreigner Assam agitation from 1979-1985.
“Government records say that ‘non-Indians’ and ‘non-citizens’ were ordered on May 9, 1994, to vacate 77,420 bighas (22,905 acres) in Sipajhar. But as their number grew to yield at least 25,000 voters, the government extended all facilities. Despite pending cases, authorities are now proceeding with electrification of 1,500 Indira Awas Yojana houses there,” Upamanyu Hazarika, convenor of PVM, told Hindustan Times.
The Supreme Court had in 2015 entrusted Hazarika with surveying the India-Bangladesh border in Assam and submit a report. In October that year, his report suggested creation of a “sterile zone” to check influx through unfenced water masses along the border.
Expecting action from the new BJP-led alliance government in Assam, Hazarika said the administration has powers to evict encroachers under section 165 of the Assam Land Revenue Regulation.
“About 3,000 bighas in the Sipajhar area encroached upon is grazing reserve, where law does not allow settlement. But no government lawyer has appeared in 19 hearings till date,” he said.
PVM members in Darrang district, where Sipajhar is situated, said the deputy commissioner on December 5, 2015, promised to clear the encroached land by February 15 this year. But the decision to provide electricity to the area under a rural electrification scheme was taken soon after.
The Morigaon district superintendent of police on June 27 assured eviction from Hatimuria within 15 days.
“We are working on the complaints and checking where the encroachers have come from. But it cannot be said for sure they are Bangladeshis or illegal foreigners,” a Morigaon district official said, not wishing to be named.
The Bangladeshi issue has often polarised voters in Assam. The issue helped BJP and its regional allies win this year’s assembly election and end 15 years of rule by the allegedly pro-Bangladeshi Congress.
Last year, Tarun Gogoi’s Congress government decided to update the National Register of Citizens, 1951, to counter this allegation.
The updating process is nearing completion with several cases of submission of fake documents having been unearthed from Muslim-dominated districts such as Barpeta and Dhubri.