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Plea to stop 'unlawful' restraints, threats, harassment of farmers off Bangla border

Counterview Desk 

In a representation to the District Magistrate, Cooch Behar, West Bengal, human rights defender Kirity Roy has said that Border Security Force (BSF) personnel off Indo-Bangladesh border have prohibited farmers of Hemkumari Dangapara village from going to their own agricultural lands to either pick up the crops they have cultivated or grow paddy.
Convener of the Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha, he pointing out, “The 72nd Amendment to the Indian Constitution clearly places agriculture and minor irrigation under the purview and jurisdiction of the Panchayat (Eleventh Schedule, Constitution of India), and therefore the BSF has no authority to restrict the conduct of agriculture on private lands of the villagers”, adding, “BSF must stop harassing, threatening, and unlawfully restraining the villagers immediately.”

Text:

I am writing to bring to your notice a grave and on-going violation of agriculture and livelihood of the villagers of Hemkumari Dangapara village under Hemkumari Gram Panchayat in Haldibari Block, Mekhliganj Sub-division, Cooch Behar district, by BSF personnel of the 40th Battalion posted at Krishna Border Outpost. The barbed wire fence installed by BSF in this village passes through the village; about 150-200 meters away from the actual Indo-Bangladesh border delineated by the International border pillars. The village has around 1,100 inhabitants, 60% Muslim, 40% Hindu (Scheduled Castes), mostly poor peasants. There is no government provided facility for irrigation or drinking water in the entire village.
35-40 families of peasants in this village have their agricultural lands, amounting to 280 Bighas, on the other side of the fence, near Gate No. 1, Krishna BOP, still well within the Indian Territory; and they have to pass through the aforementioned gate every day with agricultural equipment, livestock to irrigate and cultivate their own agricultural land. Most of these families are Muslim by faith. Starting from 18th January, 2024, BSF Coy Commander Rabindra Khare has been prohibiting said peasants from going to their own agricultural lands. On the same day, he instructed BSF personnel under his command to destroy 10 kathas of Maize plantation (ready for harvest) on the private agricultural land of Abedul Haque, incurring an estimated damage of 10,000 INR. Peasants have already cultivated potatoes, tomatoes, chillies and other crops on these lands which they are unable to harvest right now, and these laboriously cultivated crops are going to waste. They are also unable to start cultivating Boro paddy on their fields. Peasants are incurring a loss of at least 15,000-20,000 INR per Bigha. Said poor peasants are entirely dependent on agriculture on their lands for sustenance, and this loss is massive, seeing as their annual income is hardly 35,000 INR on an average.
Following are the names and details of five affected peasants:
1. Abedul Haque (39 y/o)
· Dag no.: 11532
· Khatiyan no.: 2614
· Mauza: Hemkumari
2. Ekramul Haque (55 y/o)
· Dag no.: 11541
· Khatiyan no.: 2612
· Mauza: Hemkumari
3. Amena Khatun (44 y/o)
· Dag no.: 47789
· Khatiyan no.: 7491
· Mauza: Hemkumari
4. Maqsedul Haque (42 y/o)
· Dag no.: 47655
· Khatiyan no.: 1251
· Mauza: Hemkumari
5. Mithun Haque (33 y/o)
· Dag no.: 11533
· Khatiyan no.: 2314
· Mauza: Hemkumari
The 72nd Amendment to the Indian Constitution clearly places agriculture and minor irrigation under the purview and jurisdiction of the Panchayat (Eleventh Schedule, Constitution of India), and therefore the BSF has no authority to restrict the conduct of agriculture on private lands of the villagers. Nonetheless, even after the Pradhan, Hemkumari G.P., alongwith members of the Panchayat went to the B.O.P and requested the Coy Commander to allow passage of the affected peasants to their agricultural lands, BSF Coy Commander declined the request, in direct contrivance of the constitutional jurisdiction of the Gram Panchayat. Coy Commander also trespassed into Abedul Haque’s private agricultural land and damaged crops worth 10,000 INR, which are criminal under sections 441 and 427 of the Indian Penal Code; and has been unlawfully restraining farmers from accessing their own agricultural lands which is criminal under section 339 of the Indian Penal Code.
The village must be brought under the aegis of Border Area Development Programme administered by the Ministry of Home Affairs
Said peasant families are entirely dependent on agriculture for their subsistence and they have incurred irreparable damage to their livelihood already. They are also being constantly threatened by the BSF personnel that they will be prosecuted under false cases if they try to complain or seek relief, which amounts to criminal intimidation (section 503, IPC). Despite these threats, 36 peasants have bravely gone on to lodge a complaint with the Block Development Officer, Haldibari Block, and the Inspector-in-Charge, Haldibari Police Station, with endorsement of the Pradhan, Hemkumari Gram Panchayat – on 22nd January, 2024, asking for relief and compensation, requesting access to their own agricultural land, and reporting the unlawful trespass by BSF personnel as well as the criminal threats issued to them. No FIR has been lodged, no steps have been taken against the responsible BSF personnel, nor have the peasants, at the very least, even regained access to their own agricultural lands. No initiative has been taken to compensate the peasants for their massive losses either.
In this very grave situation, we are writing to you to request urgent intervention into this matter, and put forward the following demands:
1. Access must be granted to the peasants to harvest and cultivate their own agricultural lands, through Gate no. 1, Krishna BOP, with immediate effect.
2. All affected peasants, including especially Abedul Haque whose crop was unlawfully destroyed by BSF personnel, must be compensated for their losses at the earliest possible, and within this agricultural season.
3. An FIR must be lodged against BSF Coy Commander Rabindra Khare and all other responsible BSF personnel for unlawful restraint, criminal trespass, destruction of agricultural crop on private land, and criminal intimidation of villagers (threatening with false legal prosecution); and they must be investigated into and apprehended with immediate effect.
4. This village must be brought under the aegis of Border Area Development Programme (BADP) administered by the Ministry of Home Affairs, and adequate funds must be allocated to the Hemkumari Gram Panchayat to develop the state of minor irrigation in the village for the purposes of agriculture as well as domestic use.
5. BSF must stop harassing, threatening, and unlawfully restraining the villagers immediately.
6. The border fence must not pass through the village, inside the Indian Territory; it must be installed at the actual Indo-Bangladesh border as delineated by the International Border Pillars. BSF must also be posted at the actual Indo-Bangladesh border, and not inside the village.

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