Activists from several organisations and concerned citizens protested in Guwahati on Tuesday, August 24, demanding justice for the residents of the Mikir Bamuni, a village situated in the Nagaon district of Assam.
For over six months now, the villagers of Mikir Bamuni have been protesting, demanding their rights over the lands which have been handed over to Azure Power, a multinational enterprise. The land that has been handed over to Azure had been used by the people of Mikir Bamuni for ages. Azure Power is carrying out construction in the land for setting up a solar power plant.
The protesters in Guwahati formed a human chain as a symbol of protest, expressing solidarity with the struggling villagers of Mikir Bamuni and reiterating the demand of rights of the indigenous people over their own lands.
Speaking to NewsClick from the protest site, Jayanta Gogoi, assistant secretary of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), Assam, said, “First of all, handing over fertile land to a multinational enterprise is a highly immoral and unethical act done by the government of Assam. In a report, before handing over the land to Azure Power, the government said that the land is infertile, which is a shameless act of hiding the truth. The land is highly fertile and villagers of Mikir Bamuni have been farming there for ages. In fact, when the fencing of the land was started by Azure, the rice paddies had to be removed first. Farming on the land is in fact the primary means of livelihood of the villagers.”
Gogoi further explained how the legal provisions also give the villagers right over the land. He said, “According to the Assam Tenancy Act '1971, the villagers get the rights over the land. The Mikir Bamuni area is inhabited by various tribes and the area is very sensitive ecologically. The area adjoining the Karbi hills has been an elephant corridor."
He added, "For years, the people have been synergistically living with the animals, but ever since fencing has been erected by Azure, the elephant corridor has been disrupted and there are no reports of man and elephant clashes. The solar power plant will disrupt the ecology and affect the environment adversely.”
Mikir Bamuni is situated between the Bamuni hills on its west and the Xukanjuri hills on its east. The village has a syncretic culture with people belonging to different tribes like Karbi, Tiwa, Adivasi and Bodo. For ages, the fertile lands and the water bodies have been the sources of livelihoods for the villagers. In one sense, the village has a self-sustaining economy based on the natural resources available in the area.
Arrival of Azure Power and snatching of the land away is like bolt from the blue for the people of Mikir Bamuni, which was not quite known to them as the deal was done keeping them in the dark.
The Mikir Bamuni villagers are now fighting the case in the Gauhati High Court. Krishna Gogoi, an advocate at Gauhati high court, who is leading the case, spoke to NewsClick. Gogoi explained the judicial provisions that provide the villagers rights over the land. He said, “The land of Mikir Bamuni comes under the Assam Tenancy Act, 1971. The land was originally handed over to the people for special cultivation. In fact, the land was granted to them. The land granted originally belonged to a person named Sarada Gohain. In return, the villagers used to pay tax to Sarada Gohain’s family. This had been continuing for ages."
He added, "But when the Assam Tenancy Act came into being in 1971, new rules were formulated. According to the Act, if 50% of the land revenue is paid to the landlord by someone, then the piece of land should be named against him. This is known as ‘Khatiyan’ according to the Tenancy Act. Then the successors of the person who has the ‘Khatiyan’ get the right over the land. However, the land can not be transferred to someone other than those having the ‘Khatiyan’”
“The Mikir Bamuni villagers have the ‘Khatiyan’ (a tenancy certificate) over 377 bighas of land. The government, ideally should have registered the land in the names of the villagers, which is laid upon section 22 of the Tenancy Act. Instead, the government handed over the land to Azure Power.”
Advocate Gogoi further explained how the government wrongfully carried out the entire process. “Sarada Gohain, to whom the land originally belonged to is no more. The government registered the 377 bighas of land to the heir of late Sarada Gohain and the land was sold out to Azure by the heirs of Sarada Gohain. Again, according to the ceiling act, there is a bar that an individual can have a maximum of 50 bighas of land registered in his name. This registration cannot be valid as per law. We are fighting the case in court.”