The Assam government has faced flak over its decision to ease out the process of setting up industries in the state for the sake of accelerating industrialisation. It has been accused of ignoring serious environmental issues like protection of Dehing Patkai and Dibru Saikhowa National Park, which shook the state recently and consequently mobilised a movement.
The state cabinet on June 29th, 2020, approved an ordinance in this matter. After the meeting, State Commerce and Industries Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary, while saying that anyone will be able to set up industry in Assam just by submitting one self-declaration, said, “No permission, clearance or license will be required for three years. Land will also be deemed converted for industrial purpose.”
This has caused resentment among many including those from the film fraternity, environmentalists and ethnic groups who have called the move ‘anti-indigenous’.
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Criticising the move of the government, Nilay Dutta, Advocate General, State of Arunachal Pradesh, said the decision to ease out the process of setting up industries in the state is an anti-indigenous decision.
“Most anti indigenous decision by the Assam Cabinet today to allow indiscriminate conversion of agricultural land for nonagricultural purposes without permission of Revenue authorities. Land speculators will benefit. Non locals will take over all rural land of indigenous people,” he said. He further added that the local agriculturalists will have an unfortunate outcome.
Meanwhile, well-known Bollywood actor from Assam’s Goalpara, Adil Hussain termed the decision as ‘very dangerous’. “I should welcome the decision! People need jobs and employment. But then, since childhood I have seen such insensitivity towards environmental impact of our activities, action. This decision sounds, unfortunately, very Dangerous. Would love to hear your responses (sic),” he tweeted.
Meanwhile, slamming the saffron party-led coalition government in the state over its much hyped slogan to protect the Jati, Mati and Bheti, the Leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia demanded immediate withdrawal of the ordinance for the greater interest of the indigenous people.
“People will become beggars at their own land if the ordinance is implemented by the government,” Saikia said.
Saying that the Agriculture Minister Atul Bora was maintaining stoic silence in the matter and nodded for the approval of the ordinance, Saikia said, “His stand has again proved that the Asom Gana Parishad is not actually the torch-bearer of the regionalism in the state. Leaders like him has changed the characteristics of the regional party.”
The decision of the government is contradictory to the promises made by the government prior to the 2016 Assembly elections to protect the Jati, Mati and Bheti by implementing the Assam Accord in letter and spirit.
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Debabrata Saikia accused the BJP government of taking the decision just to satisfy the interests of the capitalists. “The state cabinet in December last year had taken a decision related to the protection of the land rights of the indigenous people and now they changed it,” he added.
It may be mentioned that the state cabinet on December 21st, 2019 announced to bring two laws to secure the land rights of the indigenous people of the state. “In the coming Assembly session, the government will bring in two new laws. First one will be for securing land rights of indigenous people. The outlines of the law were discussed in the Cabinet today… After we bring the law, an indigenous person can sell his/her land to an indigenous person only, not to anyone else,” Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in a press conference on that day December 21st, 2019.
The second law, he said, will be regarding preserving land surrounding the heritage sites of Assam, including the Vaishnavite monasteries known as Xatras, preventing any kind of illegal occupation or sale of it.
Saikia said the ordinance will pave out way to the capitalists to snatch the land rights from the indigenous people.
Assam Congress, environmentalists and other ethnic organisations raised the issue of protection of the environment. They say, the decision after the Centre’s nod to open cast mining in the Saleki region in the Dehing Patkai and the oil well blowout followed by a blast at baghjan in Tinsukia jeopardizing the fragile ecological balance raised serious concern.
Industrialisation will reduce the agricultural land and forest areas in the state which will conspicuously pose a threat to the environment.
“The decision of the government is also against the environment. Industrialisation will increase the pollution level in the state also,” Saikia said.
The Chief Minister Sarbanada Sonowal cabinet approved the ordinance going on contrary to the report submitted by the Brahma Committee, a state-sponsored committee on protection of land rights of indigenous people, in 2017.
The report had stated that 90% of the natives of Assam do not possess permanent land `patta' (legal document for land ownership), while at least 8 lakh native families are landless.
It stated that the “protection of land rights of the indigenous people of Assam is, in fact, inextricably linked to the protection of their identity and the solution of the problem of foreign nationals' issue gripping Assam over the last seven decades of independence”
And for this, there has been a prolonged demand for implementation of the Clause 6 of the Assam Accord which envisages with the “constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people”.
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Will there not be large scale land grab across the state? Will moneybags not buy up all lands on both sides of National Highways, State Highways, PWD roads, etc? This way, would any Mati remain with the Assamese people? What if some entrepreneur sets up a chemical plant close to a residential area and tomorrow disaster strikes?
These are some of the questions, the government has to address since the Assamese Jati (community) cannot be a Jati without the Mati (land).
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