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Assam: What Land Purchase and Subsidy Row Involving CM’s Wife Reveals

Critics raise questions on re-classification of land to get Rs 10 crore subsidy for firm headed by CM’s wife; hint at possible ‘agenda’ behind recent evictions.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma with his wife Riniki Bhuyan Sarma (Twitter)

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma with his wife Riniki Bhuyan Sarma. Image Courtesy: Twitter

A controversial politician, once a Congress minister and staunch critic of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to becoming the Chief Minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma never fades away from the spotlight of politics and media. However, his rambunctious activities have not spared him from being at the centre of infamy many a times. This time Sarma has got entangled in yet another controversy related to his wife Riniki Bhuyan Sarma.

Allegedly, Riniki Sarma had received RS 10 crore subsidy under a Central government scheme. Alongside, she is also alleged to have owned over hundred bighas of land in the Kaliabar area of Nagaon district.

What does this controversy reveal about the CM’s way of governance in Assam? That is the central question at present.

Cross Current’s Probe Opened Pandora’s Box

The whole thing started with an investigative story published in The Cross Current, a local media portal on September 10. According to the report,  Pride East Entertainment Pvt. Ltd., an Assam-based media house led by Riniki Bhuyan Sarma (she is the CMD of the media house), received government subsidy of 10 crore.

The report also alleged that Riniki bought over 50 bighas at the Darigazi village in Kaliabar (Boobhogiya Mouza) of Nagaon district. This was in 2022, and at that time the land purchase was classified as agricultural land. The report says that thereafter it quickly underwent a category change from agricultural to industrial land.

Hereafter, Pride East Entertainment received a subsidy of Rs 10 crore from the Ministry of Food Processing, which was approved on November 10, 2022.

Source: Cross Current.

Source: Cross Current.

The Cross Current report said that the documents of the Land and Revenue Department, Government of Assam, showed the land as agricultural land, and according to the Ceiling Act, an individual or a company cannot own more than 49.5 bighas of agricultural land. So, there was a need to change its classification, which was done on April 18, 2022.

This was not all. Another report by Cross Current on September 12, alleged that the same company (Pride East Entertainment), headed by the CM’s wife, purchased another 56 bighas at the same village of Darigazi, Kaliabar. This was done on July 1, 2023.

Another 56 Bighas of Land Purchased at Darigazi, Kaliabar on July 1st, 2023,  Source: cross current.

Another 56 Bighas of Land Purchased at Darigazi, Kaliabar on July 1st, 2023, Source: cross current.

If one goes by these reports, then over 100 bighas of land acquired by the media house headed by Riniki Bhuyan Sarma within less than two years got a subsidy of Rs 10 crore from Ministry of Food Processing to set up an agro industry. Notably, the huge swathe of land owned by the media house is located in only one village—Darigazi. People from different walks of society have, therefore, started questioning the total amount of land that the company or Sarma’s family owns.

Defamation Case Against Gaurav Gogoi

This recent controversy surrounding Himanta Biswa Sarma (HBS) and his family accentuated after Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi started tweeting about. In a war of words, Gogoi provided the link of Food Processing Ministry document where Pride East Entertainment and Riniki Bhuyan Sarma were named as having received the 10 crore Central subsidy.


Chief Minister Sarma, however, kept denying any subsidy from the Central government. In his first media address in this regard, he tried to shrug off the allegations as “trivial” saying that if the allegations are proved, he would resign the next day.

Interestingly, the mainstream media in Assam also avoided the issue initially, but later as the issue became big, it came to be written about. On  September 14, Opposition MLAs walked out of Assam Assembly when Speaker Biswajit Daimary refuse to allow a debate on the allegations against the CM’s wife. Notably, AIUDF (All India United Democratic Front) MLAs appeared to shy away from participating in the Opposition’s protest. Congress MLAs, independent MLA Akhil Gogoi and CPI(M) MLA Manoranjan Talukdar staged walk-out in protest against the denial of debate on the issue.

Commenting on the issue, Riniki Bhuyan Sarma threatened to file a RS 10 crore defamation case against Gaurav Gogoi. In reply, the Congress leader commented that along with him, Central minister Piyush Goyal and Assam BJP MP Pallablochan Das should also be named in the defamation suit, as the information came from Goyal when he answered a question put by Das in Parliament.

Expanding Property in Name of Indigenous People?

Himanta Biswa Sarma is known to was eloquent on the issue of protecting the rights of the indigenous people of Assam. During his election campaigns before becoming chief minister, he termed the electoral battle as a ‘civilisational fight’ (sobhyotar juj), indicating that the people should vote for BJP to save the civilisation from ‘illegal immigrants’.

After he became the CM, there have been massive evictions, first in Muslim-dominated areas like Dholpur, Gorukhuti in Darrang district and at Silsako, Guwahati, of late. The initial evictions were projected by BJP supporters as ‘clearing land from the hands of the illegally settled population’, primarily Muslims. But later, non-Muslims and tribals were also evicted massively, which was reflected in the recent Silsako evictions.

Is Sarma more interested in expanding his property doing politics over the indigenous people? Rajya Sabha MP from Assam, Ajit Bhuyan, while speaking to Newsclick, hinted the same when he said, “It is like securing his and his family’s land more than protecting the rights of the people. They have evicted people, cleared the lands and now we are getting news in bits and pieces of land ownership involving the CM’s family members.”

“Evictions are acceptable only when they are done as per the Supreme Court’s guidelines. But what we see in Assam under the Himanta government is gross violation of laws for justice,” he added.

Bhuyan pointed out, “Their evictions also have a communal agenda, the divisive politics that BJP is engaged with. The government has not been able to touch the rich, which was quite apparent in Silsako evictions.”

On the indigenous rights issue, Bhuyan said, “What is indigenous for them? It is only the Hindus. And now even the Hindus are not spared. Whose side is the government on-- it is only the rich and big corporate lobbies. They have no concern for the downtrodden, whether Hindus or Muslims.”

He said Sarma and his party, BJP, are “doing politics in the name of the indigenous people, and are actually fulfilling the concerns of big corporates and expanding properties of the Sarma family”.

“Not only at Kaliabar, Himanta Biswa Sarma and his family has owned tea gardens at several places, resorts and other commercial outfits. All these grew exponentially after he became the CM”, Bhuyan alleged.

Pointing out the changes in Guwahati, he said, “You see what they are doing in the capital city. Many government offices, including the Gauhati High Court, are proposed to be shifted to North Guwahati. Do you know why? Because Himanta and his family has swathes of land there and the area has been classified as an urban sector recently. This will increase the land value there. Everyone knows who the real beneficiary will be”.

Bhuyan also termed these as “glaring examples” where constitutionality and democracy were subverted to the lowest level. “In fact, the words democracy or Constitution are being made meaningless under BJP rule,” he added.

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