A group of 153 academics, activists, students and professionals has demanded the return of land controversially acquired from farmers in central Assam’s Nagaon district for a 15-MW solar plant and withdrawal of security forces from the site.
The group said local authorities submitted false reports regarding cultivation and tenancy rights to hand over 276 bighas to Azure Power Forty Private Limited for the plant that would dispossess Adivasi and Karbi tribal farmers of their land in the midst of the worst phase of the pandemic.
The group also asked the government to stop the construction work for the solar plant until the contested claims over the land in Mikir Bamuni Grant are settled and action taken against the officials for manipulating documents.
1,500 families would be affected
About 1,500 families, who have been cultivating the tract for generations, would be affected by the project that entails a 25-year power purchase agreement with the Assam Power Distribution Company Limited.
A statement issued by the 153 signatories on Tuesday said the Mikir Bamuni Grant farmers have been fighting for a year to protect their land forcibly taken over the by Azure Power after destruction of ripened paddy crop on 200 bighas. Eighteen villagers were arrested after police cracked down violently on their protests on at least two occasions — October 8 and December 29, 2020.
The 276 bighas at Mikir Bamuni Grant was sold to the solar power firm in “gross violation of the Assam Fixation of Ceiling on Land Holdings Act, 1956,” which sets the upper limit for sale at 50 bighas, the statement said. It said the farmers possess inheritable occupancy rights to the land through government documents issued in 1981.
“While multiple title suits challenging Azure Power’s claims to ownership over the land are ongoing in the Nagaon district court, and the land stands as disputed, Azure Power has refused to take into account the gross violations involved in sale of the land to them,” the statement said.
The land was taken over without first settling the rights of tenant cultivators to the land, as held under the Assam (Temporarily Settled Areas) Tenancy Act, 1971, the statement said. It also pointed out that a doctored report by local officials saying the land was not under cultivation for the last 10 years paved the way for its forcible takeover.
The signatories said the firm re-entered the village on May 10 with a large contingent of CRPF personnel to “once again terrorise the villagers and suppress their right” to resist the takeover of their land.
Stringent internal processes
Azure Power countered the allegation saying all clearances from the local and district administration besides the gram panchayat concerned before the sale deed for the plot were executed.
“We have stringent internal processes before we finalise any land for our project. We are fully compliant with the rules and regulations of the State and the land purchase has been done in a lawful and fair manner,” a spokesperson of the firm said.
She pointed out that the “High Court orders in favour of Azure” were a testament to the procurement of land by the firm in accordance with the due process of the law.