On Thursday, January 21, the protesting residents of Assam’s Laika and Dodhia villages – who have been camping in front of the Tinsukia District Collector’s office for over 27 days demanding rehabilitation – broke the barricades and clashed with the security officials as they attempted to enter the office to submit a memorandum.
Interestingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to launch a special programme of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Assam Government to distribute land patta or land allotment certificates to over one lakh landless indigenous people in the state from January 23, as reported by PTI.
Meanwhile, around 1,480 families of the Laika-Dodhia villages which fall within the Dibru Saikhowa National Park extending over Dibrugarh and Tinsukia district in Assam, have been waiting for rehabilitation for over 70 years, since a massive earthquake ravaged the state in 1950.
Following the apathetic attitude of the DC and the administration despite staying in plastic sheet tents braving the winter chill for over 27 days, the frustrated residents holding placards and banners finally broke the barricades and entered the DC’s office.
According to Apio Taid, a member of the Laika and Dodhia Rehabilitation Committee, “The people are staying at the makeshift camp near Tinsukia DC office braving the severe cold. We demand rehabilitation of our people at the earliest.”
The protesting residents, who are demanding permanent rehabilitation in the proposed 320 ha forest land of Owguri area of Upper Dihing Reserve Forest Division, have alleged that the land has been illegally occupied by a politically influential businessman, who has set up a tea plantation, as reported by a local daily Dainik Asom.
In the memorandum addressed to the Chief Minister, the residents have also alleged that the Adhkhona-Adielani area under the Pabho reserve forest, which has been proposed as the rehabilitation site for residents of Dodhia, is a flood prone area and therefore cannot be considered as a viable option. On the other hand, the areas within Namphai reserve which had been proposed for rehabilitation of Laika residents, is already home to other indigenous rehabilitated tribes and thus rejected.
Also read: People Without Land: Assam’s Laika-Dodhia Villages Continue Struggle for Rehabilitation Even After 70 Years
Commenting on the issue, Takam Mising Porin Kebang (TMPK) Tinsukia assistant general secretary Ajay Doley was quoted as saying, “Till now the government has not done anything for the rehabilitation of the Laika-Dodhia villagers. The people are suffering in the makeshift camp for the last one month.”
“We have given the January 31, 2021 deadline for the rehabilitation of the people. If our demand is not met within the stipulated time then the people will rehabilitate themselves in Dibru-Saikhowa National Park,” he added.
As reported by NewsClick earlier, the villagers belonging to the indigenous Mising tribe were given rehabilitation as a temporary measure in the then Dibru forest reserve and have not had permanent housing or land pattas ever since. Most of the people of the two villages were relocated from the Murkongselek area of Dhemaji district.
However, the villagers have been facing ever since the Dibru Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary was upgraded to a national park in 1999, without any consultation of the residents, which is also a violation of the rights of the forest dwellers.
Not only that, the villagers also allege that land was taken away from them without their consent over a period of time. Prior to the villages becoming a part of the sanctuary in 1999, in 1997, 765 sq km was declared as a biosphere reserve, limiting the access of the forest to the community.
On December 30, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had constituted a committee to find a logical and everlasting solution for the rehabilitation of the households of Laika and Dodhia villages.
PM Land Patta Distribution a Sop Before Elections?
Meanwhile, in the election bound state, the news of distribution of land patta by PM has been received with a pinch of salt.
"The prime minister will formally launch the distribution of land 'patta' to more than one lakh indigenous people who have been living uncertain lives for decades. No government in Assam has ever took such a people-friendly initiative in the past," Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal told PTI.
As opposed to Sonowal’s claims of reversing the trend of migration through this initiative of allocating land to indigenous land less families, the apathetic attitude of the BJP government towards the demands of people, including those of Laika-Dodhia over the last four years, state otherwise.
The event will be held at Jerenga Pothar in Sivasagar district, a historical place connected with Assam's erstwhile Ahom kingdom.