Since the pre-independence era, the Assam government has implemented a number of schemes to assist those who lost their land due to flood. The provision of providing land to those who lost their homes due to floods remained the top priority in land allocation and settlement even during the post-independence era. Let’s examine the propositions made for those who lost their land due to floods in Assam land policies before and after independence.

According to the 1942 Land Settlement Policy, “There are, however, certain classes of immigrants who have established claims to settlement, which, if not tenable on a strictly legal basis,are more or less tenable in equity, and these are the first whom  Government propose to accommodate in extensions to colonization areas. They may be classed as – (a) those who have previously been granted settlement, but whose land has been eroded by the Brahmaputra or other rivers.”

The 1945 land settlement proposal included two crucial recommendations—  “(a) A scheme of land settlement under a plan for the settlement of available wastelands will be immediately initiated in the 4 lower districts of the Assam Valley with landless people of all classes in the province praying for lands, applications from those amongst them who have come from outside the province being entertained, if they have come into the province before 1st January 1938; (b) Anyone amongst the landless, who has lost his land from erosion or on account of military requisition will receive preference in the allotment of lands under the scheme.”

According to the details of the 1958 agricultural land settlement, “ The total available surplus cultivable lands being insufficient to meet the demand of the agriculturists individually, the future settlement for the agricultural purpose shall be made as far as possible with cooperative of farmers. When settlement to individuals has to be given the area should ordinarily be limited to 8 bighas to 12 bighas according to the fertility of the soil. In giving settlement to individual preference shall be given in the following order:

“(a) The Settlement-holders who have been rendered landless due to flood, river erosion or earthquake and whose lands were requisitioned or acquired by Government for public purposes. (b)The Landless cultivators and displaced persons. (c) Settlement-holders who have been rendered landless by river erosion and who occupy reserves with the permission of the Deputy Commissioner. Such occupants shall not be removed unless alternative land can be  provided.”

In the 1989 Land Scheme, the Government promised to give priority to the following people in allotment and settlement for general cultivation:

(a) Land-owners cultivators who have been rendered landless due to flood, erosion, earthquake, or other natural calamities. (b) Persons rendered landless due to the acquisition of their lands for public purposes. (c) Local landless cultivators. Preference will be given to cultivators belonging to Scheduled Tribe (ST), Scheduled Caste (SC) and MOBC communities. (d) Landless ex-servicemen.

Now come to the land plan that the Assam government announced in 2019. According to the stated land policy, the following groups will receive preference wherever possible when receiving land for general cultivation in rural areas:

(a) Those indigenous Land owner Cultivators who have been rendered landless due to flood, erosion, earthquake and other natural calamities. (b) Indigenous landless cultivators. Preference will be given to landless indigenous cultivators belonging to Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes and OBC/MOBC Communities. (c) Indigenous widows having no earning sons or daughters (excluding married daughter) provided such widow intends to take up cultivation as the source of livelihood. (d) Indigenous single women, disabled persons and ex-serviceman desirous and capable of taking up agriculture as a means of livelihood.

In the 2019 scheme, rural areas were defined as areas located beyond 15 km from the periphery of the Guwahati Municipal Corporation, 5 km from the periphery of other municipal towns and 3 km from the periphery of the revenue town.

According to this scheme’s paragraph 1.1, the settlement will be provided on government-owned land that is handed to indigenous landless farmers for general cultivation if the recipient uses the land for three years in accordance with the terms of the allocation. However, such settlements will only be approved after paying the government’s premium.

Let’s now talk about the goodwill of the Assam government. People who were displaced by the floods have been living on embankments, in forests, government khas land, VGR, PGR, land owned by religious organizations, etc. for many years because the Assam government has completely failed to rehabilitate them.

There are numerous schemes that promise to give land to these people, but in practice, their misery is not at all lessened. Here is an illustration of how the Assam government is attempting to categorize such individuals through the schemes.

In 2015, the Assam government introduced a scheme called, “Chief Minister’s Special Scheme for Rehabilitation of Erosion Affected Families in Assam”. According to the scheme, when awarding land under the aforementioned plan, the government wished to classify the following groups.  

(a) Families who have lost both residential and agricultural land due to erosion and who have no land elsewhere in the State. (b) Families who have lost only their residential land, not their agricultural land. (c) Families who have lost agricultural land but not housing land.

The scheme that seeks to give priorities in selecting beneficiary households are (1) Landless and homeless households due to erosion (2) Homeless households only (3) Families whose agricultural land is less than three bighas but have not become homeless.

It must be remembered that the 2015 program did not base beneficiary selection on the presence or lack of land pattas. As a result, the system did not require those requesting benefits under this scheme to present a land patta. Anyone without a lease may be eligible for benefits, regardless of whether they lived on public or forest land. Millions of peasants in Assam are known to have farmed for many years without receiving a periodic or annual patta.

But surprisingly, in 2020 the Assam government introduced a scheme called, “Rehabilitation Policy for Erosion Affected Families in Assam 2020” by notice RGR 785/2014/91 on 6 January 2021 to purposefully remove such persons off the list of erosion-affected recipients.

Unlike the scheme introduced in 2015, three categories have been recognized in the most recent plan and unlike the 2015 scheme, the priorities of this scheme are also similar. The following requirements must be fulfilled in order to qualify as a beneficiary of the 2020 policy:

( a) The eroded land of the families should be recorded in their names in the Jamabandi i.e record of rights as temporary leases or annual leases or allotted land. (b) Families who are encroachers on government land will not be considered eligible for resettlement.

In Assam, the majority of those affected by erosion and floods do not have their own land leases, and millions of people still do not have leases due to the government’s wrong actions such as improper surveying, failure to grant tenant ownership rights under the tenancy act, and improper settlement of land acquired under ceiling acts.

Now, if such people are not considered landless due to a lack of land ownership records then it must be understood that the government announcement of providing land and financial assistance to the landless people is nothing but a farce.

Kishor Kumar Kalita

Kishor Kumar Kalita is a commentator based in Guwahati and can be reached at kishorassam@gmail.com