Jun 26, 2011, 11.21am
GUWAHATI: The Left ront in Bengal paid the price for failing to address the woes of those fighting for their land in Singur and Nadigram. The Red citadel came crashing down in that state after 34 years of rule and the Trinamool Congress, led by Mamata Banerjee, came to power by inflicting a humiliating defeat on the CPM-led Left Front. In Uttar Pradesh, the Mayawati-government is also facing the heat with the Congress trying to cash in on the farmers’ opposition to land acquisition in Bhatta-Parsul ahead of next year’s polls.
With the assembly elections over and the Congress returning to power for the third time in a row in Assam, the Tarun Gogoi-government may not have to, at least for the time being, has to digest the Singur-Nandigram or Bhatta-Parsul bitter pill. However, the recent outburst of people’s anger against the government’s eviction drive in the city and their violent reaction on Wednesday – that led to death of three persons in police firing – have made on thing clear: land crisis is increasingly becoming a tricky affair for Dispur to deal with.
Conflict over land is not new to Assam. But the recent protests led by the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti and the uninterrupted state-wide agitations following the arrest Akhil Gogoi have proved that people are hitting the streets in a more organized way to save their land.
Ahead of the recent assembly polls, KMSS had virtually stopped land acquisition process for the expansion of Kaziranga National Park area in Golaghat district. Ethnic clashes rocked the state, especially in Karbi Anglong district, over land issues in recent years. Besides, loss of land area due to flood and erosion has only aggravated the problem of landlessness in the state, contributing to such conflicts. Since 1954, Assam has lost about four lakh hactar of land due to erosion.
“From Noida to Singur, whether it is Right or Left government, we have seen states are becoming emboldened by the use of force or market power to crush people’s movement for land rights. We are now seeing the same in Assam too. The state government did not hesitate to use force to crush people’s protest in Dispur against eviction from their land,” said Medha Patkar, one of the conveners of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM). Patkar said it was not the middle class, but the poor who came to Dispur to air their grievances. The social activist alleged that the use of force against anti-eviction protesters, led by KMSS, and the subsequent arrest of its leader, Akhil Gogoi, “exposed the government’s attempt to kil” people’s movements for rights over land like elsewhere across the country”.
Many activists blamed the government for maintaining double-standards on the use of land in the state. “We are also for the protection of environment. But I don’t understand why the poor are being targeted in the name of protecting environment,” Akhil’s wife, Geetashree Tamuly, said on Friday.
With land rows becoming an complicated affair, chief minister Tarun Gogoi on Saturday said the government would soon frame a land policy for the entire state. “The government will take into account every aspects while framing the policy. A committee will be constituted to look into all the issues related to use of land in the entire state,” Gogoi said in a statement. The chief minister also made it clear that the government would not allow any foreigner to acquiring land pattas at the expense of the indigenous people.
“Land issues in other parts of the country are completely different from Assam. Our government has been working with various organizations on distributing land pattas. What we saw in Dispur is not a democratic way of protesting and seeking land pattas. It was an exhibition of violence. We do not support this. You cannot allot patta overnight. It takes time because the government has to look into several aspects, including environment, before allottingthe pattas,” APCC spokesperson Akhay Rajkhowa said.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Defenders Alert-India (HRDAI), a forum that defends human rights defenders, has asked the state government to release Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) Akhil Gogoi immediately and drop all charges leveled against him.