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Land rights, wildlife, environment: Assam solar power plant has 'wider' implications

Solar power plant under construction in Nagaon district
By Our Representative 
An environmental activists’ fact-finding team led by Prafulla Samantara, recipient of Goldman Prize, also known as Green Nobel, has alleged that the process of acquiring the land in for a 15 MW solar power plant in Assam is mired in several “illegalities and violations of policies, laws and regulations” from the nature of land appropriation, to dispossession of people.
Claiming that the construction of the solar power plant is being carried out “through the use of repressive measures inflicted upon the community by the police and state authorities”, a preliminary note prepared by the team, distributed to media after interacting with local people and visiting the solar site project in Nagaon district of Assam, said, “The plant is being constructed in the midst of fertile agricultural land where we could see the residue of last season's crop.”
Other members of the fact-finding team were Leo Saldanha of the Environment Support Group, Bhargavi Rao of the Center for Financial Accountability, and Amit Kumar of the Delhi Solidarity Group. They were on a two-day visit on reaching Assam on January 26. Apart from local people, they also met state officials. It is not known if they met executives of the developers of the solar project, Azure Power.
The fact-finding team note said, “Not only the land, the environment and the wildlife are also threatened as we came to know that elephants keep crossing through the village. Fresh elephant dung and elephant foot marks were witnessed by the members.”
The note asserted, “Evidence gathered by the fact-finding team reveals that the Assam Solar Policy 2018 has been drafted so as to advantage private ventures to grab land by any means. Besides, the January 2019 Notification of Revenue Department exempts solar projects in particular from statutory mandate of complying with 2015 Land Reclassification Law.”
It added, “This amounts to the executive issuing a subordinate directive in blatant violation of a major statute passed by the Assam legislature protecting the right to land of indigenous communities, a law secured after decades of struggle.”
According to the note, “The 2019 Assam Land Policy acknowledges how extensively land is degrading due to flooding, a direct consequence of climate change, and advocates public review and critical engagement of the highest level of government of any conversion of agricultural land to other purposes.”
Evidence suggests that the Assam Solar Policy 2018 has been drafted so as to advantage private ventures to grab land by any means
Talking with media, Prafulla Samantara said, “The state must defend its people and not take the side of the company. The land and the forest belong to the people of Assam. The project appears to violate all the existing land laws that were earned through a long struggle of peasants over the sixties and seventies.”
A protest site in Mikir Bamuni Grant village
He claimed, the project “ignored” the rayati rights of the farmers, adding, “The sale of land to the company by the erstwhile zamindar family tramples on the spirit of the Assam (Temporary Settled Areas) Tenancy Act 1971.”
Leo Saldanha said, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious proposal to generate up to 450GW of electricity based on renewables, particularly solar, also has “widespread ramifications to the future of India, and also to India’s commitments under the Paris Agreement.” He added, “The experience of people of Mikir Bamuni Grant village is indicative of the direct threat there is to fundamental rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples."
Bhargavi Rao talked of “violence” against the local community by the police, stating, “Stories of women who have been beaten, kicked and subjected to trauma needs documentation and has to be addressed by the authorities concerned. The bulldozing of standing crops in December 2020 has taken away food security at the household level for these families and that will have serious implications on women and child health, especially during a pandemic year.”
Amit Kumar said, this is just the “beginning” of capturing the land won by farmers under the Tenancy Act 1971, “taking us back 60 years invalidating the rights secured by them over years of struggle to end the feudal zamindari system.” He added, “Many projects are in the pipeline which endangers not only the land of the farmers but also wildlife and environment.”

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