Mikir Bamuni: Gauhati High Court stays solar plant land acquisition

Guwahati: The Gauhati High Court put a stay on the transfer of land for a solar power project near Samaguri in Nagaon district on Monday.

According to the residents of the Mikir Bamuni grant, a cluster of villages comprising of Adivasi and Karbi communities who petitioned before the High Court, the land was illegally sold to New Delhi-based multinational company, Azure Power. This occurred without establishing the rights of the cultivators and their dependents.

Also read: Darkness under the sun: The struggles of an Assam village against ‘green’ energy

On Monday, Justice Sanjay Kumar Medhi suspended the land acquisition bid by Azure Power and directed the Nagaon administration to stop any construction activity on the site. According to petitioner Lakhiram Mardi, a resident of Mikir Bamuni, he and three others were put behind bars by the Nagaon police on New Year’s Eve for resisting land acquisition bid.

Nagaon Police arrested Mardi and others for manhandling local supporters of the project, who secured bail last month. Mardi and 200-odd residents accused Nagaon Police of assaulting the women in the area.

Also read: Mikir Bamuni: Land grab in the name of ‘green’ projects, says fact-finding team

Curiously, a lower court in Nagaon had recognised the land sale as a civil dispute between owners of the land, the cultivators, and the solar company, thereby ruling out the possibility of police involvement. “However, they continued sending police along with company officials to acquire the land which our forefathers have been cultivating for decades,” said Mardi.

The Mikir Bamuni residents stated that cite the Assam Tenancy Act of 1971, which ensures land rights for cultivators after three years growing crops on a piece of land. Incidentally, the Mikir Bamuni residents presented cultivation rights accorded to their families in 1981.

Mikir Bamuni residents claim that the dispute started during the COVID-19 lockdown, after the state-owned electricity distribution company, the Assam Power Development Corporation Limited (APDCL), selected 287 bighas (38.4 hectares) of prime agricultural land of Mikir Bamuni and neighbouring Lalung Gaon in 2018.

Azure Power, the solar company, won the bidding with Rs 3 per unit in 2019 for the plant. This was followed by several violent altercations between locals and the district administration. In September, the Nagaon district administration razed standing paddy.

The residents narrated their ordeal before the judge. For close to two months, the village men hid in neighbouring hills and forests, fearing arrests. The women, meanwhile, continued their protest so that the court took note of their situation.

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