A new Assam Land Policy, 2019 fails to define ‘indigenous’
The State Cabinet of Assam gave its nod to the Assam Land Policy – 2019 on Monday, The Sentinel reported. The policy has promised to give three bighas (43,200 sqft) of agricultural land to landless ‘indigenous’ people apart from half a bigha for constructing a house.Once the policy is notified, it will replace the ‘Assam Land Policy – 1989’.
However, even now the policy has failed to define the core term ‘indigenous’.
The draft of the ‘Land Policy 2019’ was prepared by officials of the Revenue and Disaster Management department in consultation with the senior officials of the CM’s office. The draft report is based on the recommendations of the ‘Committee for Protection of Land Rights of the Indigenous People of Assam’ headed by former Chief Election Commissioner Hari Shankar Brahma, the ‘Land Policy of 1989’ and the draft ‘Land Policy of 2016’.
The Brahma Committee, spearheaded by Hari Shankar Brahma was constituted on February 6, 2017. It had rejected the 1951 Census report’s definition of an ‘indigenous person’ which stated that anyone ‘belonging to the state of Assam’ and speaking any of the languages and dialects spoken in the state was to be called indigenous.
The Brahma committee, instead had laid down its own definition of an indigenous person. It says that an indigenous Assamese person, has to have lived in the state for “Several generations” and should belong to an “ancient tribe/ethnic clan”, which has “originated” in Assam. Such a person should be “determined to save his ethnic, linguistic and cultural identity” and “believe that his culture, language and identity is different from others inhabiting his land” among others.
It adds that any person from any other state of India who speaks the language of the “state of his origin” and has “retained his original culture can’t be called an indigenous person of Assam.”
The committee went on to say that any person from any other state of India who speaks the language of the “state of his origin” and has “retained his original culture cannot be called an indigenous person of Assam”.
It had insisted that “the most serious threats to the land rights of the indigenous people of Assam” came from “unabated mass infiltration” from Bangladesh.
The Revenue department had forwarded the draft of the new policy to 11 State government departments seeking their views including ‘inclusion to’ or ‘omissions from’ the draft land policy.
Significantly, the Home and Political department had mentioned that the term ‘indigenous’ needed to be defined with elaboration and necessary explanation of the significance of the term. The Home department also suggested that the NRC (National Register of Citizens) of 1951 may be considered as the basis for indigenous people who figured in that document irrespective of caste, community, and religion.
Land has now been at the centre of clashes in Assam for a long time with ethno-nationalist groups claiming that vast tracts of land are being usurped by alleged illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
Yet, the State Revenue and Disaster Management Department has kept mum on defining the term ‘indigenous’ saying that providing the definition does not fall within their purview.
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