Eviction drive turns violent in Assam; 2 protesters die in police firing

Opp terms incident ‘barbaric’; demands rehabilitation of evicted people

GUWAHATI, Sept 23: At least two protesters lost their lives while a few others, including police personnel, were injured after police resorted to firing during an eviction drive that turned ugly in the Sipajhar-Dholpur area in central Assam’s Darrrang district on Thursday.

According to reports, officials of the Darrang district administration accompanied by policemen had gone to the area to carry out the eviction drive that was initiated last Monday when a section of protesters turned violent and allegedly attacked some police personnel with blunt weapons, following which the latter first resorted to lathicharge and then firing.

“We had to resort to lathicharge as the situation went out of control…But when the protesters turned violent, we had to open fire, which injured some people. Some of our policemen were also injured during the clash,” Darrang superintendent of police Susanta Biswa Sarma told reporters.

On the first day of the drive last Monday, over 800 families were evicted from the area.

Speaking to mediapersons on Thursday afternoon, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said, “The drive was carried out to remove illegal encroachers from the area. But as some of them attacked policemen with sharp weapons and stones, police resorted to firing as part of their duty. The eviction drive will resume tomorrow and will continue till the land in the entire area is freed from illegal encroachment.”

The Assam government plans to implement its multi-crore ‘Garukhuti Project’ (part of the state budget 2021-22), where the cleared land will be used for afforestation and community farming activities, involving indigenous youths.

About 30,000 bighas of farmland have been identified in the area which has been divided into four zones to carry out the eviction drive.

Meanwhile, the eviction drive by the government has drawn severe criticism from the Opposition parties.

Assam Pradesh Congress Committee president Bhupen Kumar Borah strongly condemned the drive terming it a “barbaric and inhuman act of police firing on resident protesters of Dholpur area particularly during a pandemic situation.

“The Supreme Court had also given a directive against eviction during pandemic situation yet the Assam government has remained adamant, behaving in an autocratic manner to evict the residents of Dholpur who have been living in the area since the 1970s,” Borah said.

“Without alternative arrangements for land and housing where will these poor people go and how will they survive? They are mostly cultivators and their source of sustenance is being attacked. Before the eviction, the government should have arranged for rehabilitation and alternative housing,” he said.

“We demand that the chief minister should first rehabilitate the people and not evict them forcefully. Such type of governance is highly condemnable and dangerous for a democratic society,” Borah said.

All India United Democratic Front MLA Aminul Islam also strongly condemned the incident, terming it a “shameful act”.

“The rule of law seems to be absent as the government seems to be acting on its whims and fancies…in a dictatorial manner. We strongly condemn this act,” Islam said.

Raijor Dal president and Sibsagar MLA Akhil Gogoi on the other hand demanded a judicial probe into the deaths and necessary action against the authorities responsible for the incident.

He further demanded that the eviction drive should be stopped immediately and the residents who have lost land and property during the drive be rehabilitated and compensated.

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