Solar project | BJP accused of taking Assam tribes’ lands

Students’ association refers to two sets of tribal people allegedly victimised by State machinery.

The All India Tribal Students’ Association Assam (AITSAA) on Tuesday asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Sarbanada Sonowal to prove the Bharatiya Janata Party was not anti-tribal by keeping off the farmlands of the indigenous people.

The AITSAA referred to two sets of tribal people allegedly victimised by the State machinery — one in central Assam’s Nagaon district where farmers are resisting takeover over of their land for a solar plant and the other living in forest villages in a national park straddling Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts.

“The BJP government came to power in Assam by claiming to protect ‘jati, mati, bheti’ [race, land and hearth] but has ended up trying to drive the indigenous people out of the very land they have subsisted on for generations,” said AITSAA advisor Arindom Prince Panging.

It said the Nagaon district administration tricked the primarily Karbi and Advisai villagers of Mikir Bamuni Grant, about 140 km from Guwahati, into “giving up” their farmlands for a solar plant to be set up by Azure Power Forty Private Limited. This led to protests on December 29 during which the police had allegedly assaulted a pregnant woman who had a miscarriage.

The company did not respond to email but officials said it had bought 276 bighas in Mikir Bamuni Grant — where peasants were allowed to cultivate decades ago — from the erstwhile landlord’s family. The validity of the land deal was challenged in court.

“Some 1,500 families there have been living for three-four generations and they have nowhere else to go. How can the government evict them without first making alternative arrangements? The tribal people suffered during the British rule and the Congress rule after Independence, but not as much as now,” Mr. Panging said.

“We hope the PM and the CM show they are not anti-tribal and ensure the lands of the indigenous people are not taken over by private firms. We are not anti-development but development cannot be at the cost of the tribal people,” AITSAA president Sunil K. Teron said.

He said tribal organisations would approach the United Nations if the Central and the State governments do not protect the land rights of the indigenous people.

The AITSAA also drew the government’s attention to the plight of 1,480 tribal families ‘trapped’ in forest villages in Dibru-Saikhowa National Park since 1986. Successive governments failed to rehabilitate these families of mostly Mising tribal people, though Mr. Sonowal has directed the forest officials to come up with a concrete plan by January 31.

Some 2,000 people in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts have been camping outside the office of the Tinsukia Deputy Commissioner’s office since December 20 demanding proper rehabilitation.

Laika comprising three villages (in Tinsukia district) and Dodhia comprising four (in Dibrugarh district) came into existence in the 1950s after a major earthquake had displaced them from nearby areas. The people there were virtually cut off from the world beyond until the Dibru and Saikhowa reserve forests were clubbed together to create a wildlife sanctuary that was upgraded to a national park in 1999.

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