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Assam defends eviction drive in Barpeta, says ‘met no resistance, rehabilitation effort on’

Guwahati: The authorities in Assam Monday sought to address the controversy triggered by an eviction drive over the weekend in Assam’s Barpeta district.

According to district officials, 37 families from the Bengali Muslim community, who had allegedly encroached upon 40 bighas of land, were evicted as part of Saturday’s drive.

The land is said to belong to the Barpeta Sattra. Sattras are monastic institutions that were created as part of the 16th-century movement by the Vaishnavite saint-reformer Srimanta Sankaradeva. 

The eviction drive follows years of allegations regarding encroachment of sattra land in Assam, with the sattras also attributing blame to suspected “illegal migrants” from Bangladesh.

Barpeta Superintendent of Police (SP) Amitava Sinha said there “was no resistance met as such” during the eviction drive. “There was sufficient force deployment and it was conducted peacefully,” he added.

Barpeta Deputy Commissioner Tej Prasad Bhusal said the evicted families have taken up accommodation in makeshift shelters nearby.

“We did the homework. At least two notices had also been sent to the families,” he added.

Bhusal said the district authorities are in the process of finding land to rehabilitate the evicted families. 

The Assam Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Rules, 2015, requires the administration  to come up with a rehabilitation and resettlement scheme, after seeking consent from the affected families.

The Barpeta eviction is the latest in a series of such drives in Assam over the past few months.

Last year, an eviction drive against alleged illegal encroachers in Darrang district’s Sipajhar area had led to protests and made national headlines over allegations of police brutality. Two people were killed in the agitation, including a villager whose body was seen being stomped on by a photographer in grisly footage that went viral.

Two months later, the government conducted an eviction drive in Lumding reserve forest, again against “illegal encroachers”. In January, about 70 families were evicted from the Lahorijan area of Assam’s Karbi Anglong district in yet another drive against “illegal settlers”.

Also read: Vistadome train from Guwahati to Haflong is the new go-to destination in Assam

MLA’s controversial comment

The Barpeta eviction drive has taken a further controversial turn following a Congress MLA’s remarks during a visit to the area last week.

Baghbor Congress MLA (Barpeta is a part of the Baghbor constituency) Sherman Ali Ahmed has been booked for reportedly saying, “Nobody could evict you till I am alive. Almighty Allah will protect you.” 

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma described the comments as “provocative and highly communal”, with the Assam Congress seeking to distance itself from the comments too. 

The FIR against Ahmed was lodged in Barpeta Police Station last week after the Barpeta Sattra filed a complaint.

SP Sinha said the FIR “was related to intimidation and disturbing communal peace and harmony”, adding that the matter is currently being probed.

Debabrata Saikia, Leader of the Opposition in the Assam Legislative Assembly, wrote to the sattra management committee in Barpeta, saying “neither I nor my party support the latest acts of the Baghbor constituency (MLA) at a time when the state government is taking steps to evict encroachers from the historic Barpeta Sattra”. 

Saikia told ThePrint that a “committee in the party is looking into Ahmed’s expulsion”.

The three-time MLA was suspended from his party last year following his comments on the 1983 killing of eight Assamese youth near the Sipajhar area during the Assam Agitation. The MLA had said the eight were not “martyrs” but “killers” as “they were also responsible for the death of many others from the Miya (Bengali-speaking Muslim) community”, a report in The Indian Express said.

Ahmed was arrested over the comment but subsequently let out on bail.

Ahmed is, however, not the only one to have spoken against Saturday’s eviction.

All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU) adviser Ainuddin Ahmed called the eviction a “violation of fundamental rights”.

“If the sattra management committee just claims that 200 bigha land is theirs, that doesn’t make it theirs. This is government land,” Ahmed claimed and added, “They (the families that were evicted) are very poor people — flood-affected families. They don’t have land, that’s why they needed to be rehabilitated first because they are landless people.”

Kusum Mahanta, general secretary of the Assam Sattra Mahasabha — an umbrella organisation of all sattras in Assam — told ThePrint that the land cleared Saturday had belonged to sattras since the time of the Ahom kingdom.

Alleging that those who were evicted were “Bangladeshis (illegal migrants)”,  Mahanta said, “We want to vacate the land occupied by Bangladeshis, that is our demand. In Assam, there are 7,200 bighas of land occupied by Bangladeshis, we demand the government of Assam to vacate the occupied land.”

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: ‘Give & take’: How Assam & Meghalaya struck an agreement on a 50-year-old boundary dispute

Source: The Print

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