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Return Assam’s land and forests to the indigenous and Adivasi people: DSG

A detailed fact-finding report confirmed that the Azure Power company secured land for its solar power project at Mikir Bamuni Grant village by illegal and fraudulent means.

Sabrangindia 30 Apr 2021

AssamRepresentation Image
 

Assam’s Karbi and Adivasi communities in Mikir Bamuni Grant village in Nagaon district have lived and cultivated the 93 acres of land that was allegedly illegally secured by the Azure Power Forty Private Limited, said a DSG fact-finding report on April 30,2021.

For over a year, indigenous people and farmers in the area have been protesting the forceful takeover of their land for the construction of a 15 megawatt solar power plant by Azure Power Forty Private Ltd.

To verify these claims in the absence of any attention by local representatives, an All-India Fact-Finding Committee (FFC), constituted by Delhi Solidarity Group, responded to villagers’ appeals. Recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, also known as Green Nobel Prize, Prafulla Samantara from Odisha, Environment Support Group member Leo Saldanha from Bangalore, Centre for Financial Accountability member Bhargavi Rao from New Delhi and Delhi Solidarity Group member Amit Kumar were part of this team.

Between January 27 and January 29, members met impacted communities, Nagaon district police and revenue officials to research and gather evidence for the “The Anatomy of a Solar Land Grab - Report of a Fact-Finding Committee relating to Human Rights Violations, and Environmental & Social Impacts of 15 MW Solar Power Plant being established by Azure Power at Mikir Bamuni Grant Village, Nagaon, Assam.”

It stated that the Azure Power company was assisted by district authorities, revenue officials and police in forcibly taking over cultivated land of villagers, in abject violation of judicial orders, laws and policies.

“The construction of the solar part was undertaken with blatant abuse of police power, employed to terrorise local people into submission, and this including a variety of serious human rights abuses. Despite widespread media coverage in local dailies, no action has been initiated against guilty officials by the state government. Shockingly, the office of the Governor of Assam has been found to be involved in authorising the illegal transfer of land,” said the team in a press release.

Samantara pointed out that the Assam government, especially Nagaon administration, played a crucial role in the “corporate capture of resources” dispossessing indigenous and Adivasi people from their lands and livelihoods. Meanwhile, he alleged that the police assisted the takeover by blatantly violating people’s human rights. The Assam government has served the interest of Azure Power at the cost of human rights, livelihood, and fundamental rights of villagers, he said.

Further, the team noted that not only was the land in question cultivated for decades by local communities, it was also full of standing crops at the time of demolition. The report condemned local agricultural officials for falsely claiming that there was no cultivation for over a decade. The report said the village and its fertile land was part of an active elephant corridor and an ecologically sensitive zone that will be blocked by the construction of a solar plant.  

Kumar, who has extensively researched land and environmental laws relating to industrial corridors and mega infrastructure projects, said as per the Assam (Temporary Settled Areas) Tenancy Act 1971 clearly states that the land should have been transferred in the name of Mikir Bamuni Grant farmers. Moreover, the move also violates the Assam Fixation of Ceiling on Landholdings Act 1956.

“We were shocked to learn that these lands were first transferred to descendants of the original land grant landholder, occupancy tenant's rights over the land were deliberately ignored, and then the purchase of this land by Azure Power was accommodated by revenue officials,” he said.

Kumar said that the state government is dispossessing indigenous people from the land, by facilitating illegal transfer just as Britishers sold huge areas to big Zamindars while calling the land “wasted and uncultivated”.

Meanwhile, Saldanha said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promotion of 450GW of energy production from renewable sources is fraught with various inconsistencies, particularly the lack of appreciation of various details relating to finance demanded, and social and environmental impacts.”

He pointed out that the message to state governments instructs them to assist the transnational and national private sector to secure land in any manner. Such so-called ‘just transitions’ which are claimed as responding to challenges of climate change, are outside the purview of India’s environmental laws despite specific directions from Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal that such projects must be subordinated to environmental clearance review, said Saldanha.

Rao said, “The diversion of cultivated lands that fail in an active elephant corridor to Azure Power’s solar park, is perhaps only the beginning of a transformation of the Nagaon region to industrial infrastructure. There has been absolutely no consultation with local communities. The fact that we found elephants moving through the villages on two of the three days we were at Mikir Bamuni, exposes the Forest Department consented to the project when they should have declared the area an ecologically sensitive elephant corridor to protect elephants.”

She also mentioned disturbing accounts of women and children of terrorisation by police and company officials. As such the report demands that the government immediately halt the construction of Azure Power solar plant and take steps to restore the land to its former glory.

The FFC holds that the cost of this operation must be borne by Azure Power in consonance with the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Further, an enquiry must be initiated into the illegalities and fraud perpetuated by state officials to facilitate the unlawful transfer of land.

The report also asserts the immediate need for the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to bring solar plants and other renewable energy projects under social and environmental review as directed by the National Green Tribunal (South Zone). This decision was also asserted by the Supreme Court of India. The team recommended to all Azure Power’s Mikir Bamuni solar plant financiers to critically evaluate the basis for financing, and take necessary action for violations of various safeguards.

The full report may be viewed below:

 

Related:

Assam rocked by earthquake, people left vulnerable amidst Covid-19

EXCLUSIVE! River erosion washes away over 35 percent of Assam’s agricultural land

First Covid, now floods; NRC work still on hold in Assam

Floods wreak havoc on 31 out of 33 districts in Assam

Return Assam’s land and forests to the indigenous and Adivasi people: DSG

A detailed fact-finding report confirmed that the Azure Power company secured land for its solar power project at Mikir Bamuni Grant village by illegal and fraudulent means.

AssamRepresentation Image
 

Assam’s Karbi and Adivasi communities in Mikir Bamuni Grant village in Nagaon district have lived and cultivated the 93 acres of land that was allegedly illegally secured by the Azure Power Forty Private Limited, said a DSG fact-finding report on April 30,2021.

For over a year, indigenous people and farmers in the area have been protesting the forceful takeover of their land for the construction of a 15 megawatt solar power plant by Azure Power Forty Private Ltd.

To verify these claims in the absence of any attention by local representatives, an All-India Fact-Finding Committee (FFC), constituted by Delhi Solidarity Group, responded to villagers’ appeals. Recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, also known as Green Nobel Prize, Prafulla Samantara from Odisha, Environment Support Group member Leo Saldanha from Bangalore, Centre for Financial Accountability member Bhargavi Rao from New Delhi and Delhi Solidarity Group member Amit Kumar were part of this team.

Between January 27 and January 29, members met impacted communities, Nagaon district police and revenue officials to research and gather evidence for the “The Anatomy of a Solar Land Grab - Report of a Fact-Finding Committee relating to Human Rights Violations, and Environmental & Social Impacts of 15 MW Solar Power Plant being established by Azure Power at Mikir Bamuni Grant Village, Nagaon, Assam.”

It stated that the Azure Power company was assisted by district authorities, revenue officials and police in forcibly taking over cultivated land of villagers, in abject violation of judicial orders, laws and policies.

“The construction of the solar part was undertaken with blatant abuse of police power, employed to terrorise local people into submission, and this including a variety of serious human rights abuses. Despite widespread media coverage in local dailies, no action has been initiated against guilty officials by the state government. Shockingly, the office of the Governor of Assam has been found to be involved in authorising the illegal transfer of land,” said the team in a press release.

Samantara pointed out that the Assam government, especially Nagaon administration, played a crucial role in the “corporate capture of resources” dispossessing indigenous and Adivasi people from their lands and livelihoods. Meanwhile, he alleged that the police assisted the takeover by blatantly violating people’s human rights. The Assam government has served the interest of Azure Power at the cost of human rights, livelihood, and fundamental rights of villagers, he said.

Further, the team noted that not only was the land in question cultivated for decades by local communities, it was also full of standing crops at the time of demolition. The report condemned local agricultural officials for falsely claiming that there was no cultivation for over a decade. The report said the village and its fertile land was part of an active elephant corridor and an ecologically sensitive zone that will be blocked by the construction of a solar plant.  

Kumar, who has extensively researched land and environmental laws relating to industrial corridors and mega infrastructure projects, said as per the Assam (Temporary Settled Areas) Tenancy Act 1971 clearly states that the land should have been transferred in the name of Mikir Bamuni Grant farmers. Moreover, the move also violates the Assam Fixation of Ceiling on Landholdings Act 1956.

“We were shocked to learn that these lands were first transferred to descendants of the original land grant landholder, occupancy tenant's rights over the land were deliberately ignored, and then the purchase of this land by Azure Power was accommodated by revenue officials,” he said.

Kumar said that the state government is dispossessing indigenous people from the land, by facilitating illegal transfer just as Britishers sold huge areas to big Zamindars while calling the land “wasted and uncultivated”.

Meanwhile, Saldanha said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promotion of 450GW of energy production from renewable sources is fraught with various inconsistencies, particularly the lack of appreciation of various details relating to finance demanded, and social and environmental impacts.”

He pointed out that the message to state governments instructs them to assist the transnational and national private sector to secure land in any manner. Such so-called ‘just transitions’ which are claimed as responding to challenges of climate change, are outside the purview of India’s environmental laws despite specific directions from Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal that such projects must be subordinated to environmental clearance review, said Saldanha.

Rao said, “The diversion of cultivated lands that fail in an active elephant corridor to Azure Power’s solar park, is perhaps only the beginning of a transformation of the Nagaon region to industrial infrastructure. There has been absolutely no consultation with local communities. The fact that we found elephants moving through the villages on two of the three days we were at Mikir Bamuni, exposes the Forest Department consented to the project when they should have declared the area an ecologically sensitive elephant corridor to protect elephants.”

She also mentioned disturbing accounts of women and children of terrorisation by police and company officials. As such the report demands that the government immediately halt the construction of Azure Power solar plant and take steps to restore the land to its former glory.

The FFC holds that the cost of this operation must be borne by Azure Power in consonance with the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Further, an enquiry must be initiated into the illegalities and fraud perpetuated by state officials to facilitate the unlawful transfer of land.

The report also asserts the immediate need for the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to bring solar plants and other renewable energy projects under social and environmental review as directed by the National Green Tribunal (South Zone). This decision was also asserted by the Supreme Court of India. The team recommended to all Azure Power’s Mikir Bamuni solar plant financiers to critically evaluate the basis for financing, and take necessary action for violations of various safeguards.

The full report may be viewed below:

 

Related:

Assam rocked by earthquake, people left vulnerable amidst Covid-19

EXCLUSIVE! River erosion washes away over 35 percent of Assam’s agricultural land

First Covid, now floods; NRC work still on hold in Assam

Floods wreak havoc on 31 out of 33 districts in Assam

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