‘Mission Basundhara’ supporting Bangladeshi Settlement: Upamanyu Hazarika

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Prabajan Virodhi Manch (PVM) Convenor, Upamanyu Hazarika on Wednesday termed the Mission Basundhara scheme a “land policy for Bangladeshi immigrants”.

Hazarika in a statement said, “Mission Basundhara, styled as a land reform/settlement scheme is in actual fact a scheme for creating a Bangladeshi vote bank, by allotting 13.6 lakh bighas (over 4.5 lakh acres) of PGR/VGR land to landless immigrant families who came into Assam until 2011.”

On one hand the State Government is trying to portray an anti-immigrant image by conducting eviction drives in many parts of the State, while in reality they are on a mission to give them settlement in the rich and fertile PGR/VGR lands of the state. He added.

On the face of it, Mission Basundhara appears to be a laudable initiative simplifying land procedures but the actual aim is establishment of Bangladesh migrants on indigenous lands and at one stroke nullifying the Assam Movement, Clause 6 Committee Report, Brahma Committee Report, Upamanyu Hazarika Committee Report etc. By notification of 11th of November 2022, the State Government has set out the modalities of grant of Professional Grazing Reserve and Village Grazing Reserve (PGR-VGR) lands to encroachers and others by conferring ownership rights upon them. More than 90% of those encroachers are of Bangladeshi origin. The scheme details are as follows –

  1. For identity proof, Aadhar, PAN Card or driving licence are sufficient.
  2. Towards eligibility for allotment, refugee certificate, erosion affected certificate, encroachment fine receipts, touzi land revenue receipts or minimum needs programme beneficiary are the specified categories.
  3. The cut-off date is 1st of January 2011, which means that the documents produced have to be prior to such date.
  4. None of the above documents are certifications of citizenship. The NRC process being undertaken on a 1971 cut-off basis did not consider these documents to be sufficient proof of citizenship.

Now by virtue of this scheme, migrants who have come from Bangladesh as a recently as 2011 will be entitled for grant of rich and fertile PGR-VGR lands.

Even though under the Assam Accord, citizenship was granted to migrants from Bangladesh/East Pakistan into Assam prior to 25 March 1971 and Assam took the burden of 23 years of additional immigration compared to rest of India (cut off year is 1948 for rest of India), Clause 6 of the Assam Accord provided for safeguards to the local indigenous population and the Committee appointed by the present Government in February 2020 had recommended that land rights, employment, trade licences etc should be granted only to those whose names or that of their ancestors who are recorded in the 1951 NRC. This was also the recommendation of the Upamanyu Hazarika Commission submitted to the Supreme Court in 2015 and accepted by the State Government.

It is pertinent that the present Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma in December 2019 had emphatically asserted as a minister in the earlier Government that Clause 6 Committee report would be implemented by the Government without altering “any full stop or comma”.

In fact senior officials and land experts have expressed surprise at the appointment of Shri Nazrul Islam as the advisor and architect of Mission Basundhara as a significant number of officers having greater expertise on land and revenue matters have been overlooked.

The Brahma Committee report, commissioned by the very same BJP Government had in 2018 had identified 7.28 lakh bighas of PGR and 6.38 lakhs VGR lands in the State. This committee had made a significant recommendation of preserving PGR and VGR lands on the basis that Assam being primarily an agricultural economy (65% of land being agriculture dependent) and with uneconomic size of land holding, the PGR and VGR lands would supplement the income of farmers for cattle rearing and grazing. In fact not only has the Brahma Committee recommended against de-reservation of PGR and VGR lands, it had proposed that further additional land be re-reserved for PGR/VGR to promote cattle rearing and grazing as additional sources of income.

This entire exercise of land allotment is being undertaken in a furtive and surreptitious manner, the Chief Minister focusing his Government’s ‘achievement’ of eviction of encroachers from Satra land etc., and trying to distract public attention from this nefarious project to settle illegal immigrants. All of those encroachers who have been evicted in various operations have been resettled with permanent land rights, housing etc in alternative sites which is completely contrary to the provisions of the Assam Land Grabbing Act, 2010 under which land grabbing is a punishable offence carrying a maximum imprisonment of 5 years. Commission of an offence under this Act according to the Chief Minister deserves to be rewarded and particularly in the person is of Bangladeshi origin where such allotment is carried out without verifying citizenship credential.

This is what happened in the much touted Gorukhuti, Sipajhar eviction process where all the encroacher families have been resettled with housing and cattle in Dalgaon. The so-called Gorukhuti agriculture project in Sipajhar has grabbed the land of indigenous cattle grazers who are now denied access to land on which they have been grazing cattle and sustaining their livelihood over generations. Local villagers who’re graziers have to pay Rs 1600, to the Garukhuti project per bigha per month on lands they’ve been grazing for generations.

Himanta Biswa Sarma is an evergreen power politician. Even after abusing Prime Minister Modi and the BJP in 2014 while he was in the Congress and overnight changing colours into an extremist Hindutva politician, it is clear that his consistency pandering to the Bangladeshi vote bank has remained undiminished.

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