One land rights activist dies after self-immolation in Assam

By Staff Reporter,

Guwahati: One protestor of peasants’ body Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) died after receiving 90 per cent burn injuries following his act of self-immolation in demand of land rights in front of Assam secretariat on Monday.

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The person, identified to be one Pranab Boro, though was rushed to Guwahati Medical College Hospital immediately after the incident which took place at around 10 o’clock in the morning, the doctors declared him dead at around 4.30 in the afternoon.

Pranab Boro self-immolates in the protest demanding land rights for local people in Guwahat. (photo credit:Demotix and NorthEast Today)

The incident took place despite the fact that there had been enough deployment of police and other paramilitary forces in and around the city since morning. The district administration and police have deployed enough forces in and around the city apprehending an untoward incident considering the protest by the KMSS.

Today’s incident took place ahead of the AICC vice president Rahul Gandhi’s two day scheduled visit to the state from Tuesday.

KMSS had earlier threatened the state government to launch strongest protest including self-immolation if the government does not pay heed to their demands.

The Assam government had recently approved giving land pattas (documents) to families residing on government land till 2001. However, the government had made it clear that pattas would not be given to people living in forest lands and in wetlands across the state.

The KMSS had, however, been demanding the government to give land pattas to those who have been dwelling on government lands, including forest lands and wetlands, till December 13, 2005.

“We have been demanding implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, also known as Forest Rights Act and land rights to indigenous people,” said KMSS general secretary Kamal Kumar Medhi while adding that Assam’s government refusal to implement the Act led to self-immolation of one indigenous person.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi termed the incident as unfortunate. “This is unfortunate and I don’t see any justification for the self-immolation by the person. I am giving land pattas to people but how can we give land pattas to those who had encroached on forest lands and water bodies. There is a government of India policy and I cannot violate this by giving land pattas to those living on forest lands and water bodies,” said Gogoi while reacting to the incident.

“There has already been global warming and we would do great injustice to our own people by giving land pattas to those encroaching upon forest lands and wetlands,” he said while adding that if necessary, the government would take legal action against those who had instigated the person for self-immolation.

However, the process of formal distribution of land patta has begun today with CM Tarun Gogoi handing over patta to city dwellers occupying government land for 10 years and above at a function held at Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra in the city. The first recipient was Purnima Saikia, mother of Deepamoni Saikia who died in a bomb blast in Guwahati in October 2008.

Chief Minister Gogoi said the process for distribution of land patta to those occupying Government land for 10 years and above has started in right earnest. “We have started the process of distribution of patta from today and it would be completed in due course of time,” he said, adding that it was unfortunate that some sections had been trying to put hurdles on the way of allotting patta.

“Everything has been carried out in consultation with KMSS leader Akhil Gogoi. They can demand that the process be expedited and raise other issues. We would listen to them. But why they should put a spanner in the process of distribution of land patta, which they have been demanding since long,” he quipped.

Gogoi reiterated that the government would not allow encroachment on forests land and wetlands at any cost. “We will not allow encroachment on forest and wetlands at any cost. The wanton destruction of forests have had led to flash floods resulting in heavy erosion rendering many homeless and affecting lakhs and lakhs acres of agricultural land due to siltation. The encroachment on wetlands will also lead to an alarming situation and may result in drinking water scarcity, health and other problems. We cannot allow things to drift to a point of no return,” he said.

The Chief Minister said in matters of land patta preference would be given to those living below poverty line, homeless and landless people. Gogoi said that the Government would launch a scheme for rehabilitation of the erosion affected people and would ask the Central Government for assistance.

Speaking on the occasion, Minister for Revenue and Disaster Management, Prithivi Majhi said that the process for allotting land patta has been made easy with the powers being vested with the district administration. “Land patta can now be disposed off at the district administration level and it no longer requires the concurrence of the Cabinet, thanks to the Chief Minister for making the process hassle-free and less time consuming,” he said.