Assam: What Is The Anti-Encroachment Eviction Drive?

Assam: What Is The Anti-Encroachment Eviction Drive?
Image source: PTI

The Assam government and police officials have come under scrutiny after two civilians were killed in the police firing during an eviction drive in Darrang district on Thursday. The Assam Congress has slammed that the BJP-led Himanta Biswa government, saying that the pathetic situation was created by the state administration. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also condemned the incident and said that the violence was sponsored by the state government.

According to officials, the state government has set up an inquiry headed by a retired judge of the Gauhati High Court to look into the matter. According to reports, two people were shot dead and at least nine policemen were injured during the incident. The two civilians killed in the police firing have been identified as Saddam Hussain and Sheikh Farid.

Earlier, on Wednesday, the local administration had sent a letter to the people of Kirakota Char in Sipajhar area and asked them to evacuate the government land. The next day, on Thursday morning, clashes took place between the police and local people in Sipajhar when a team to drive the people from the allegedly encroached government land arrived.

The police said they opened fire at the civilians in retaliation to the protesters pelting stones at their forces. A video that has been circulated on social media shows that an armed protester, who was thrashing them with a stick, was brutally beaten by policemen and a local cameraman. The protester reportedly died on the spot after a bullet hit his chest. In the shocking footage, the cameraman, was also seen repeatedly kicking and jumping over the dead body. The accused has been identified as Bijoy Sankar Baniya – a local photographer who was hired by the local administration for filming the eviction drive.

DGM Assam said that the cameraman has been arrested, and that they have asked the CID to investigate the matter. Following the incident, Assam Chief Minister Hemanta Biswa said that the police were doing their duty and that they were attacked by protesters. He also said that action against illegal encroachments has begun again and will continue.

The forces started evicting illegal encroachments earlier this week, beginning from Fuhuratoli in Darrang district, where over 800 families were forcefully evacuated from the government land. These are mostly the Bengali speaking Muslim minority of the state. The state government said that it has regained its 4,500 bighas land after evacuating encroachers. 

The campaign against illegal encroachment is part of the current BJP state government’s ‘Garukhuti Project’, aiming to reclaim over 77,000 bighas government land from encroachers. The Hemanta Biswa government launched action against illegal encroachment in June, in Hojai, Karimganj and Darrang districts, demolishing hundreds of homes and claiming over 4000 bighas of state land. It is the first such move since the BJP retained power in Assam in May 2021.

Who Are The Illegal Immigrants In Assam? 

Assam has a long history of illegal immigrants, which has always become a huge issue during the state assembly elections. During the previous election, the BJP had promised to protect Assam’s civilisation by reclaiming government land from encroachers. The BJP had used the term ‘land Jihad’ in its manifesto, promising that action will be taken against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

In July this year, the government had informed the assembly that nearly 1.4 lakh illegal immigrants had been identified, out of which, about 30,000 had been deported.

According to the Northeast Policy Institute, more than 5,500 bighas of government-owned land has been occupied by illegal immigrants in Assam – mostly people who crossed over from East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh) after independence.

 

Read more: Decoding The Assam-Mizoram Border Dispute

 

Hiranya K. Nath, a researcher and professor of economics at the Sam Houston State University in Texas, said in his report that migrants are entering Assam in huge numbers, majorly from Bangladesh and Nepal. The professor said that between 1901 and 2001, the population of India grew by 331 percent while the population of Assam grew by 710 percent. The population of the Hindu community in the state, however, has declined due to the uncertainties caused by violence and socio-economic factors.

According to the Assam Accord, those who crossed the international border without proper legal documents and came to Assam on or after March 25, 1971, are illegal immigrants. All those who came before the deadline would be declared citizens through the legal process, akin to naturalisation.

The data maintained by the National Register of Citizens (NRC) shows that Assam has a population of 33 million, of which, 1.9 million people are settlers and not citizens of India.

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