Our Staff Reporter
Guwahati, June 18: Amidst the growing clamor for protection and preservation of xatras, a High Court ruling passed way back in 1997 has revived the debate as to how successive governments in Assam ignored the problem and allowed it to go out of hand.
Hearing a petition filed by lawyer Kuntala Deka over the murder of a Xatradhikar, repeated thefts and robberies in the Vaishvite mosteries and encroachment of their land, the then Chief Justice (acting) of Gauhati High Court VD Gyani had directed the Revenue authorities of districts to take proper legal steps and free the places of worship, 'kirtanghars', mghars and xatras from encroachment.
The court, while delivering the judgment on March 27 that year, had sought an action taken report within three months.
"As for maintence and repairs of xatras, in some cases where there are no maging committees functioning, the deputy commissioners and the superintendents of police of the districts concerned are directed to see that upkeep and maintence of xatras are taken care of and their sanctity as a place of worship be maintained," the court had said.
Nearly 20 years have lapsed since the HC directive, but the situation has not changed much.
The North East Policy Institute had in 2011 carried out a survey of 910 State xatras. The study had found that around 5,548 bighas of land in 26 xatras are under encroachment. The study team comprised of members of the Asom Xatra Mahasabha, Gauhati University and tiol Museum. The study had even noted that most of the encroachers are suspected to be illegal migrants.
The then Congress government in the State had, however, contested the study findings.
According to the previous government, only around 80 bighas of land in seven xatras - two in Jorhat, three in Sonitpur and one each in Dhubri and Morigaon - are under encroachment. According to the previous State government, the highest encroachment is in Patekibari Xatra of Morigaon (37 bighas), followed by Sonitpur's Aoniati Xatra (16 bighas) and Dakhinpat Xatra of Jorhat (15 bighas).
Moreover, incidents of theft in various xatras have been often reported.