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Freeing Xatra land

Xatra land
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The BJP-led government of Sarbananda Sonowal which came to power in 2016 by promising to protect jaati-maati-bheti of Assam’s indigenous communities must be congratulated in advance for its reported move to pass a legislation empowering authorities to evict encroachers from land belonging to the numerous Xatra institutions of the state. This newspaper in its lead news story on Monday has reported that a move is on to introduce the Assam Land and Revenue Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2019; it proposes to empower DCs and SDOs to carry out eviction of unauthorized occupants from Xatra land. For this, however, the Xatra authorities would have to inform in writing to the DC or SDO about the unauthorized occupation of Xatra land by any individual or group. The deputy commissioner, however, will serve a notice requiring the unauthorized occupants to vacate the Xatra land and remove all buildings, houses and other constructions and crops raised, for which they would be given one month’s time. This is a very welcome move, and this Bill should be unanimously passed by the Assam Assembly in its next session slated for later this month. While different Xatra institutions own land that were given as grant by the Ahom and Koch kings before the British had annexed Assam, hordes of ‘land-hungry migrants’ from erstwhile East Bengal, erstwhile East Pakistan and present-day Bangladesh have encroached upon them, thus causing a dangerous situation. In many instances, these immigrants had even resorted to intimidation, physical assault and creation of other distress situations, and at least one Xatradhikar was brutally murdered in Lakhimpur district several years ago by suspected Bangladeshi infiltrators with the sole intention of occupying the Xatra land. The Kobaikata Xatra, situated not far away from Bardowa Thaan in Nagaon district, is left with only the naamghar after suspected Bangladeshi infiltrators had systematically occupied its land over the past 30 years, there were a number of incidents of intimidation, theft, burglary and other crimes that compelled a few indigenous Assamese families living in its vicinity to sell off their land at throwaway price to the immigrants. According to an estimate made by the Axam Xatra Mahasxabha in 2016, over 7,000 bighas belonging to different xatras are under encroachment. A study conducted by the Northeast Policy Institute in 2012 had found over 5,500 bighas belonging to 26 Xatras encroached upon by people of doubtful origin. The Viswa Hindu Mahaxabha in 2008 had put the figure at an astounding 41,000 hectares. The Gauhati High Court had issued an order way back in 1997 asking the government of Assam to free Xatra land from encroachers, but evoked little response. The Assam Board of Revenue, while disposing a case related to land belonging to a Xatra in Chenga mauza in Barpeta district, had in July 2004 clearly stated that granting of ownership right of Xatra land to a person belonging to a religion other than that of the person to whom the Xatra belongs is not permissible.