The Gauhati high court on October 7 termed the September 23 eviction-related violence at Dhalpur in Darrang district of Assam as “a big tragedy and very unfortunate” and directed the state government to file a detailed affidavit in the matter.
Hearing a PIL filed by leader of opposition in Assam assembly, Debabrata Saikia, and a suo motu petition in connection with the eviction drive and the subsequent violence, a division bench of the high court comprising Chief Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia and Justice Soumitra Sakia observed: “This is a big tragedy, very unfortunate. Those who are guilty, if at all, must be punished, no doubt about that.”
“Khoon zameen par gir gaya (blood has been spilt),” the chief justice remarked.
The court wanted to know whether the National Rehabilitation Policy is applicable in Assam, and directed the state government to file a detailed affidavit in the entire matter within three weeks.
In his PIL, Congress leader Saikia told the court that the people evicted from Dhalpur belong to marginalised and socio-economically backward sections, who had migrated due to the recurring floods and erosion of the Brahmaputra River over the past six decades.
“The Assam government justified the eviction drive by referring to a cabinet decision to vacate about 77,000 bighas of land in the Sipajhar area in Darrang district for setting up agricultural projects,” the PIL claimed.
The plea also challenged the cabinet decision to effectuate a proposal to clear around 75,000 bighas of land to set up an agro-farm and forest projects.
The high court will hear the case again on November 3.
Welcoming the high court’s move, Assam Congress president Bhupen Kumar Borah said the court’s observation vindicated his party’s stand on the eviction drive.
“The incident of firing on a lone protester by more than 40 armed police personnel and the subsequent violent action of a government affiliated cameraperson on the dead protester had shocked people all over the world,” Borah said in a statement.
It said the PIL also stated that the government had deprived people belonging to tribal, Scheduled Caste and other backward communities in order to give land to private parties.
“The PIL also took up the matter of eviction of people of various backward communities in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts without proper rehabilitation after the areas where they had settled were declared as wildlfe reserve by the state government,” the statement added.
Two persons, including a 12-year-old boy, were killed while 20 others were injured after a mob clashed with the police during an eviction drive at Dhalpur in Darrang district on September 23.
A video of the clashes, which went viral, also showed a photographer engaged by the Darrang district administration stomping on the body of a man shot by the police.
The Assam government had earlier ordered a judicial inquiry into the matter. A state government official said on October 7 that former Gauhati HC judge BD Agarwala would conduct the inquiry into the Dhalpur eviction violence, which is to be completed within three months.
Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had earlier claimed that the Popular Front of India (PFI) was involved in the Dhalpur violence.
The eviction drive was launched on September 20 and 23 by the police and the district administration to vacate 4,500 bighas (602.40 hectares) of government land, allegedly illegally encroached by several hundreds of Bengali-speaking Muslim families in Darrang district.