Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Gauhati High Court closes suo motu PIL over police brutality during eviction

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The Gauhati High Court closed a Suo Motu Public Interest Litigation (PIL) over alleged police brutality at Garukhuti-Dholpur in the Darrang District of Assam.

The suo motu PIL taken up on the basis of a letter dated 27.12.2021, made by Paresh Malakar, on behalf of the citizens associated with Asom Nagarik Samaj, to the Chief Justice, Gauhati High Court, whereby a request was made for suo motu cognizance and take up the incident of alleged police brutalities at Garukhuti-Dholpur in the Darrang District of Assam.

The letter of 27.12.2021, refers to a certain incident, that took place on 23.09.2021, where a heavily armed team of Assam Police Personnel was deployed by the Govt. of Assam at Garukhuti-Dholpur in the Sipajhar Revenue Circle of Darrang District, to carry out certain evictions. When protest were made by the people against the eviction, in the ensuing melee, the police resorted to firing to disperse the crowd and in such event, three persons were reported to have died.

The allegation made in the letter also refers to certain incidents, where a cameraman, engaged by the Darrang District Administration to document the situation was seen to be repeatedly stomping over the dead body. The letter also states that about 800 families in the area have been evicted and such people were living on the land for several decades and were evicted without any prior notice.

Accepting the said letter dated 27.12.2021, the PIL (Suo Motu) was registered and TJ Mahanta, Senior Counsel, was requested by the High Court to appear on behalf of the Gauhati High Court.

Apparently, from a reading the letter, the Division Bench of Justice Achintya Malla Bujor Barua and Justice Robin Phukan noted that two causes of action had arisen:

(1) first cause of action is that certain people were killed in the police firing which was connected with the eviction that had been carried out and

(2) the second cause of action is that the persons who were evicted are required to be rehabilated.

When the matter was taken on 04.10.2021, the Advocate General of Assam stated that the Government of Assam had already appointed a retired High Court Judge, namely, Justice B.D. Agarwal (Retd.), as “One-man Inquiry Commission” to enquire into the incident that took place on 23.09.2021. In the circumstance, although certain affidavits were filed by the respondents in course of the proceeding, a statement is made by TJ Mahanta, learned Senior Counsel for the Gauhati High Court that in the meantime, the inquiry by the Commission, referred above is going on.

J. Handique, counsel for the Revenue and Disaster Management Department, Government of Assam, upon being instructed by the Departmental Secretary has made a statement that whenever the report and recommendation is made by the One-man Inquiry Commission, the Government would look into it and take whatever appropriate actions under the law are to be taken in the circumstance.

As regards the other cause of action, that the evicted people are required to be rehabilated, the High Court noted that in PIL No.65/2021 (Debabrata Saikia vs. State of Assam), the same issue had been raised as regards the rehabilitation of the concerned evicted people and in the said PIL, the order dated 24.01.2023 had already been passed, which is extracted as below:

“6. After hearing the learned counsel for the parties, what is discernible is that some 400 to 500 families were evicted from their respective lands and that in respect of the land from which the eviction were made, there is also a Cabinet decision to set up an agro farm/model project in the Sipajhar area of Darrang district of Assam. After perusal of the PIL petition as well as hearing the learned counsel for the petitioner, no material nor any ground could be pointed out which may lead the Court to arrive at any such conclusion to interfere with a Cabinet decision of the Government of Assam to set up an agro farm/model project at Sipajhar.

  1. Interference of a Cabinet decision is circumscribed and it cannot be that a Cabinet decision would be interfere for an oblique purpose of seeking certain rehabilitation which may be required pursuant to any such eviction or displacement that may take place while implementing such Cabinet decision. From such point of view, we look into the other prayers of the petitioner i.e. for payment of appropriate compensation under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 as well as the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Rules, 2015.
  2. We have taken note of a statement made by Mr. J Handique, learned counsel for the Revenue and Disaster Management Department of the Government of Assam from the records and information provided to him by the departmental officials that approximately about 700 families were affected in the eviction that had been carried forward pursuant to the aforesaid Cabinet decision that may have been taken. A further statement is made upon information being provided by the departmental officials that in the meantime about 600 families had already been resettled by giving alternative plots of land. What remains is the balance of about approximately 100 families who had not been provided with the adequate rehabilitation of alternative land.
  3. In this respect, Mr. J Handique, learned counsel for the Revenue and Disaster Management Department makes a statement that out of such families, some families may have other alternative land elsewhere, but were occupying land from which they were evicted and may have gone back to their original land or are presently not available before the revenue authorities for examining their claim.
  4. As 600 families had already been rehabilitated out of the approximately 700 families who were evicted, we are of the view that no further consideration is required in this PIL petition other than in respect of those balance approximately 100 families who according to the learned counsel for the petitioner are yet to be rehabilitated and it is also an admitted position of the respondents in the Revenue and Disaster Management Department.
  5. Here again, a further consideration would be whether such people had any alternative land or they are landless people or actually whether they are in requirement of any rehabilitation by allotment of alternative land.
  6. In the circumstance, we require such other families from the balance of approximately 100 families who are said to have not been rehabilitated to make their individual applications before the Deputy Commissioner, Darrang providing in detail all materials that may support their claim for allotment of any alternative land for the purpose of rehabilitation. We further provide that in the event any such application is made, the Deputy Commissioner shall pass individual reasoned orders within a period of six months from the date of receipt of such applications from the individual applicants. In doing so, the Deputy Commissioner shall also give the individual applicants an opportunity of hearing and also allow them to produce any relevant materials that they may intend to rely upon to substantiate their claim for allotment of land for the purpose of rehabilitation.
  7. By requiring the Deputy Commissioner to pass individual reasoned orders on any such individual applications of the applicants, we clarify that we are not expressing any view that such applicants are entitled to any allotment of any such land or that they are not entitled to any such allotment and it is for the Deputy Commissioner to pass its own reasoned orders on the individual facts and circumstance of each of the applications.
  8. In view of the subsequent circumstance as indicated above, we are of the view that no further adjudication is required in the claim made in this PIL petition and accordingly the PIL petition stands closed.”

As regards the cause of action for rehabilitating the evicted people, the said provisions in the order dated 24.01.2023, in the PIL No.65/2021, would also be applicable in the present case, observed the High Court while closing the PIL.

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