Explained: Why Distribution Of Land Deeds By Modi To Assam’s Indigenous People Can Seal Victory For BJP In State

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Jan 22, 2021 07:49 PM +05:30 IST
Explained: Why Distribution Of Land Deeds By Modi To Assam’s Indigenous People Can Seal Victory For BJP In StateNarendra Modi (Twitter)
  • The pattas will be given to families belonging to only indigenous communities who have built houses and have been living on government land for the past two decades or more.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will distribute land pattas (deeds) to 1.06 lakh indigenous people of Assam during a visit to the state on Saturday (January 23).

The distribution ceremony at Sivasagar in Upper Assam may well turn out to be a game-changer for the Assembly polls in the state due just three months from now.

Assam Revenue Minister Jogen Mohan told Swarajya that over the last four and half years since the BJP-led alliance came to power in the state, more than 2.28 lakh landless families have been given pattas.

“No government in the past has distributed land pattas to such a large number of people. Past governments have paid only lip service to the landless,” said state chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal.

All indigenous families who have been continuously staying for over 20 years in government lands that they have encroached on will be awarded pattas to their homestead lands.

“This is in keeping with our election promise of safeguarding the jati, mati, bheti (community or race, land, foundation) of the Assamese people. If indigenous people are given land rights, it automatically translates into an iron-clad safeguard for them,” said Sonowal.

According to state’s land records, Assam had 5.75 lakh landless families belonging to the indigenous communities in 2016 (when the BJP-led alliance came to power in the state). Of them, 2.28 lakh families have already got pattas and with another 1.06 lakh families getting the land deeds on Saturday, there will be 2.41 lakh landless families remaining in the state.

“Distribution of pattas to the landless is a continuous process that we initiated after coming to power. Saturday’s ceremony will be a landmark one in the country’s history as nowhere would so many pattas have been distributed in one go,” said state finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

The pattas are given to families belonging to only indigenous communities who have built houses and have been living on government land for the past two decades or more.

Most of these landless families had been displaced from their own homes by floods, erosion or other calamities and had settled down on vacant government land or degraded forest land and grasslands.

“Getting the deeds, and hence the rights, to the plots of lands they live on means the world to them. Without the pattas, they were unable to get loans from financial institutions to start any business or construct proper houses. Ownership of the land one stays on is a hugely emotional issue,” explained finance minister Sarma.

The issue of granting pattas to landless families is not a new one in Assam and many organisations have strongly voiced this demand. Many governments in the past have promised to do so, but have sat on it.

That’s because the governments of the past were loath to make a distinction between indigenous and non-indigenous (read: Bangladeshi-origin migrants) people.

Since the BJP came to power in Assam on the plank of safeguarding the rights and identities of the indigenous people of the state, it has found it easy to distinguish between indigenous and non-indigenous landless families and reward only the former.

“Land is a very important entity that’s integral to the identity of a community. Land is critical for protecting the identity, culture and interests of a community or race. Thus, by making indigenous communities owners of the lands they dwell on, which may be government land but rightfully theirs, the government is protecting the interests and identity of Assam’s indigenous people,” said Sarma.

State BJP president Ranjit Kumar Das indicated that providing pattas to the landless belonging to indigenous communities would be a major poll issue in the state.

The BJP and its ally, the AGP, has already started lambasting the Congress for not fulfilling its promise of providing pattas to the indigenous landless people of the state.

“The reason they (the Congress) did not give pattas is because they could not be seen to be favouring the indigenous people of the state over Bangladeshi migrants who were their precious vote bank,” said Sarma.

Sarma’s statement was a counter to the Congress’ criticism that distribution of pattas to the landless is an administrative process that has been going on for many decades now.

The state Congress had claimed that Congress governments in the past had also distributed pattas to the landless, but had not made a hullabaloo over it.

But as per government records, just a few hundred pattas were distributed over the past four decades in the state. And quite often, this exercise had got embroiled in allegations of corruption and favouritism.

“Our process of distributing pattas has been completely transparent and no one has raised a finger over even one case,” said revenue minister Jogen Mohan.

Many organisations representing indigenous communities of the state have hailed the state government’s move.

The mega patta-distribution programme on Saturday, thus, promises to be a game-changer for the ensuing polls in Assam.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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