Press Release-28 Jan 2021, Nagaon Town, Assam
The culture, identity, life and livelihood of Karbi and Adivasi farmers of Mikir Bamuni Grant are under grave threat
Since last one year, the situation in Mikir Bamuni Grant village has been a cause for concern with news of farmers protesting forceful takeover of their land for setting up a 15 MW solar power plant by Azure Power Forty Private Ltd. In order to look into the matter an all-India Fact-Finding Team made up of Prafulla Samantara (recipient of Goldman Prize, also known as Green Nobel Prize) from Odisha, Leo Saldanha (Environment Support Group) and Bhargavi Rao (Environment Support Group and Center for Financial Accountability) from Karnataka, and Amit Kumar (Delhi Solidarity Group) from Delhi arrived in Assam on 26 January 2021 and visited the site and met with the local communities, as well as with several state officials over the course of the next 2 days. The prima facie evidence suggests that the process of acquiring the land in question is mired in several illegalities and violations of policies, laws and regulations from the nature of land appropriation, to dispossession of people, and construction of a solar power plant through the use of repressive measures inflicted upon the community by the police and state authorities.
The solar power plant is being constructed in the midst of fertile agricultural land where we could see the residue of last season crop. 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. Prafulla Samantara point out that 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. Ignoring the Rayati rights of the farmers, 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 pointed out that PM Narendra Modi’s ambitious proposal to generate up to 450 GW of electricity based on renewables, particularly solar, has widespread ramifications to the future of India, and also to India’s commitments under the Paris Agreement. The experience of villagers of Mikir Bamuni Grant village’s land in Nagaon district of Assam is indicative of the direct threat there is to Fundamental rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples, considering how Azure Power has been facilitated by Assam State Govt in promoting a 15 MW solar park in prime agricultural land flouting all constitutional and statutory safeguards.
Evidence gathered by fact finding team reveals that the Assam Solar Policy 2018 has been so drafted as to advantage private ventures to grab land by any means. Besides, the January 2019 Notification of Revenue Dept exempts solar projects in particular from statutory mandate of complying with 2015 Land Reclassification law. This amounts to the Executive issuing a subordinate directive in blatant violation of a major statute passed by the Assam Legislature protecting right to land of indigenous communities, a law secured after decades of struggle.
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 Govt of any conversion of agricultural land to other purposes. This too appears to have been blatantly flouted in the case of Azure Power.
Bhargavi Rao raised the issue of violence against the local community by the police and said it is unacceptable. Stories of Women who have been beaten, kicked and subjected to trauma needs documentation and has to be addressed by all concerned authorities. The bulldozing of standing crops by Azure power company 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. This, especially during a pandemic year when agrarian economy was hit the hardest. It is important that Azure power realises this and lives up to the highest level of corporate ethics. It is appalling that IFC and CDPQ are funding such a project that is in complete violation of all fundamental and human rights, and a project that has caused violence against women and children.
Amit Kumar pointed out that this is just the beginning of capturing the land won by farmers under the Tenancy Act 1971, and takes us back sixty years invalidating the rights secure by them over years of struggle to end the feudal zamindari system. Many such projects are in the pipeline which endangers not only the land of the farmers but also the wildlife and environment. The youth of Assam will have to awaken to this impending threat and crisis. This takeover of land is in direct contravention of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord.
Reference: Delhi Solidarity Group