Assam Government Evicts 1,300 Muslim Families in Sipajhar, 2 Killed in Police Firing

Reported by

Aditi Patil

Legal Data by

Anmol Gupta, Mukta Joshi

Edited by

Moushumi Sharma

Updated by

Published on

March 24, 2022

March 24, 2022

Updated on

March 24, 2022

Location of Conflict

Sipajhar

Darrang

Reason or Cause of Conflict

Communal/Ethnic Conflict

(

)

People Affected by Conflict

Land Area Affected (in Hectares)

602

ha

Starting Year

2020

State

Assam

Sector

Land Use

On September 20 and 23, 2021, the Assam government carried out two eviction drives in Dhalpur 1 and Dhalpur 3 areas in Darrang district’s Sipajhar village. The government intended to free 607 hectares of ‘encroached’ char areas (shifting riverine islands of fertile land formed by the waters of the Brahmaputra). Subject to a continuous process of deposition and erosion, these land masses are temporary and, like the flow of the river itself, are subject to change almost every year.

At least 1,300 Bengali-Muslim families residing in the chars were evicted during the demolition drive. The government reportedly issued a notice at midnight on September 18, and by the morning of September 20, the police and district administration started clearing the houses. After the first round of evictions, the residents were served another eviction notice at night on September 22.

The demolition drive on the morning of September 23 turned violent when the people protested. Police, dressed in riot gear and armed with sticks and guns, reportedly clashed with protesters and shot dead one person. A video that captured a photographer stomping on the lifeless, bullet-ridden body of the victim, went viral on social media, which forced Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to order a judicial probe in the matter. Following public outrage over the brutality, the Assam Police arrested the photographer and handed his case to the Criminal Investigation Department. A 12-year-old boy was also killed in police firing. Some houses were set ablaze.

The government claims that the houses demolished were illegal structures, but the evictees counter that they have been living in the area for over 40 years. Many of the families had moved from other districts like Nagaon, Barpeta and Goalpara in the 1970s and 1980s after they lost their land to erosion.

The land dispute stems from the state’s decision to free government lands from ‘encroachment’. Nearly a month after taking over as the chief minister, Sarma announced that the government will use about 25,666 acres of land “freed from encroachers at Gorukhuti, Sipajhar, in Darrang for agricultural purposes”.

The Bengali-Muslims whose houses were demolished allege victimisation by the Assam government and call their eviction ‘forceful’. At the start of the eviction drive, the authorities reportedly asked them to move to a spot next to the river, which is flood-prone and unfit for habitation. The displaced families now find themselves cramped in shanties propped up with whatever is left of their homes, without access to basic amenities like toilets.

Following the evictions, a public interest litigation was filed by Debabrata Saikia, a senior Congress leader, seeking the formulation of a rehabilitation, compensation and resettlement policy for the evicted people. In October 2021, The Gauhati High Court directed the Assam government to file an affidavit in the matter. The state’s advocate-general had sought three weeks to comply.

In the next hearing on November 3, 2021, Sipajhar Revenue Circle Officer Kamaljeet Sarma, representing the Assam government, submitted the affidavit in the court, which stated that the government had earmarked 130 hectares for relocating the evicted families if they could prove their citizenship, besides a set of other requirements. The government also stated that the evictees were not eligible for compensation as they were ‘encroachers’ and were, in fact, ‘liable to be evicted at any time’.

The probe into the killings had not begun until December 2021 as the retired Gauhati High Court judge leading the inquiry did not have staff for the investigation.

Meanwhile, the Darrang district administration has started the rehabilitation of the families. On February 15, 2022, at least 66 families were relocated to Shyampur area. The district administration has reportedly made arrangements for clean drinking water and access to toilets along with road connectivity.

Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Demand for rehabilitation

Demand for compensation

Demand to retain/protect access to common land/resources

Other Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Region Classification

Rural

Type of Land

Common and Private

Type of Common Land

Non-Forest (Other than Grazing Land)

Total investment involved (in Crores):

Type of investment:

Year of Estimation

Page Number In Investment Document:

Has the Conflict Ended?

No

When did it end?

Why did the conflict end?

Categories of Legislations Involved in the Conflict

Legislations/Policies Involved

Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013
Section 3(a) [Administrator to mean an officer appointed for purpose of rehabilitation and resettlement of affected families]; Section 4(1) [Whenever the government intends to acquire any land for a public purpose, it shall carry out a Social Impact Assessment in the affected area]; Section 16 [Administrator to conduct survey after publication of notification and prepare a draft Rehabilitation and Resettlement Scheme for affected families]
Section 165 [Notice to be served to unauthorised occupants of government land for vacation of land. Deputy Commissioner to take control of land after eviction of such persons]
Article 14 [Right to equality and protection from arbitrary state action]; Article 21 [Right to life with dignity]
Constitution of India, 1950
Article 14 [Right to equality and protection from arbitrary state action]; Article 21 [Right to life with dignity]
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    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Whether claims/objections were made as per procedure in the relevant statute

Yes

What was the claim(s)/objection(s) raised by the community?

What was the Decision of the Concerned Government Department?

The evicted people are encroachers and, therefore, not eligible for compensation. There are 130 hectares allocated for resettlement if the evictees can prove their citizenship.

Legal Processes and Loopholes Enabling the Conflict:

Non-rehabilitation of displaced people

Non-payment of compensation/promised compensation

Lack of legal protection over land rights

Violation of fundamental rights

Legal Status:

In Court

Status of Case In Court

Pending

Whether any adjudicatory body was approached

No

Name of the adjudicatory body

Name(s) of the Court(s)

The Gauhati High Court

Case Number

PIL 65/2021, PIL (Suo Motu) 6/2021, PIL 76/2021, PIL 69/2021

Main Reasoning/Decision of court

PIL (Suo Motu) 6/2021 had been taken up by The Gauhati High Court on October 4, 2021, wherein it was noted by the Advocate General, Assam, that the state government had already appointed a retired high court judge as a one-man inquiry commission to enquire into the incident on September 23, 2021, at Gorukhuti-Dholpur in Darrang district. PIL 65/2021 was taken up by The Gauhati High Court on October 7, 2021. On this date, the court directed that interim relief would not be granted as eviction had already been completed in Dhalpur 1, 2 and 3 and notice for eviction in remaining areas would be given at a later stage. Both the matters were directed to be heard together. PIL 76/2021 and PIL 69/2021 were also directed to be heard together. The next date of hearing is stated to be April 20, 2022.

Major Human Rights Violations Related to the Conflict:

Killing

Physical attack

Torching of houses

Displacement

Whether criminal law was used against protestors:

No

Reported Details of the Violation:

Two people, including a teenaged boy, were killed and many others injured, including policemen. Some houses were razed to the ground while others were set ablaze.

Date of Violation

September 23, 2021

Location of Violation

Sipajhar, Assam

Nature of Protest

Protests/marches

Government Departments Involved in the Conflict:

Revenue Department, Home and Political Department, Assam Police

PSUs Involved in the Conflict:

Did LCW Approach Government Authorities for Comments?

Name, Designation and Comment of the Government Authorities Approached

Corporate Parties Involved in the Conflict:

Did LCW Approach Corporate Parties for Comments?

Communities/Local Organisations in the Conflict:

All Assam Minority Students Union, Prabajan Virodhi Manch, Sangrami Satirtha Sammelan, Dakshin Mangaldai Gowala Santha

Resources Related to Conflict

  • News Articles Related to the Conflict:
  • Documents Related to the Conflict:
  • Links Related to the Conflict:

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