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Security forces used to 'forcibly' implement Assam solar power plant, 'suppress' protesters

Counterview Desk 

More than 150 academics, activists, students, lawyers, filmmakers and concerned citizens from Assam, North-East and across the country have taken strong exception to the deployment of security forces in the midst of a raging pandemic in Mikir Bamuni Grant, Nagaon district, Assam, to push forward the construction of Azure Power's solar power plant.
Claiming that the plant is being “constructed in an atmosphere of terror and fear on land forcibly taken over from cultivating farmers”, the signatories have called upon the Government of Assam to immediately withdraw state security personnel from the village and its surrounding areas and stop construction work on Azure Power’s solar power plant until the contested claims over the land have been settled.

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For more than a year Karbi and Adivasi farmers of Mikir Bamuni Grant village in Nagaon district have been fighting to protect their lands, forcibly taken over by Azure Power Forty Private Limited for building a solar power plant. The land in question was cleared and cultivated by the ancestors of these farmers for generations.
Further, they possess inheritable occupancy rights to the land in the form of a khatiyan that was issued to their families in 1981. Ignoring their rights, the land was sold by descendants of the original land grant holder to Azure Power in August 2020. 
While multiple title suits challenging Azure Power’s claims to ownership over the land are ongoing in Nagaon district court, and the land stands as disputed land, Azure Power has refused to take into account the gross violations involved in sale of the land to them.
The land in question was sold to Azure Power by 8 family members of the descendants of the grant holder of Mikir Bamuni Grant. This was done in gross violation of the Assam Fixation of Ceiling on Land Holdings Act 1956, by transferring 276 bighas of land to a single family, even as the ceiling limits it to not more than 50 bighas. It was further done without first settling the rights of tenant cultivators to the land, as held under the Assam (Temporarily Settled Areas) Tenancy Act 1971.
These two key legislations that aim to democratise land ownership in Assam and ensure land to the tiller have been blatantly ignored, violated and trampled on, in order to unlawfully place the land exclusively in the hands of the landowner, who had no right to sell the land to Azure Power in the first place.
On at least two occasions the protesting farmers have been jailed for voicing their protest against this forceful takeover of the land under heavily police and the use of violence against them. On October 8, 2020, as Azure Power took possession of the land, once again under heavy police protection and after razing nearly 200 bighas of ripened paddy crop, 14 people were arrested and remanded to judicial custody to be released only 12 days later.
On December 29, while villagers resisted construction work on their lands, 4 people were arrested after a brutal midnight raid that night and were kept in jail for 63 days. In contrast, no action has been taken against the Lat Mandal who gave a false report that states the land in question has not been under cultivation for the last 10 years.
The government’s Census data exposes this lie and clearly indicates Mikir Bamuni Grant is an agrarian village. No action has been taken against the Samaguri Revenue Circle Officer or Deputy Commissioner of Nagaon District who did not settle the rights of the tenant cultivators before placing the land exclusively in the hands of the landholders. 
Ignoring all the violations involved in the transfer of land to Azure Power, the company has repeatedly used state security forces to bulldoze their way into the village, grab the land, and terrorise the villagers into accepting the power plant.
In the latest brazen use of violence to carry out their project, on May 10, 2021, in the middle of the worst peak of the coronavirus pandemic Azure Power has re-entered the village backed with heavy deployment of CRPF to once again terrorise villagers and suppress their right to protest against the theft of their land through coercion, violence and fear. 
Moreover, they have jeopardised the safety and security of all residents of Mikir Bamuni Grant by bringing in large number of outsiders at a time when the whole country is reeling from the debilitating impacts of pandemic.
We demand:
  • an immediate withdrawal of the security personnel from Mikir Bamuni Grant village and its surrounding areas
  • stop construction work on Azure Power’s solar power plant until the contested claims over the land have been settled
  • return the land to the cultivating farmers
  • take action against all state officials who have submitted false reports regarding cultivation and tenancy rights in Mikir Bamuni Grant
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Click here for signatories

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