On the 29th of December 2020, the police entered Amdanga village, part of the Mikir Bamuni Grant cluster of villages in the Nagaon district of Assam. With face covered, the police broke out into the houses of the local people and picked up three locals, Lakhiram Mardi, Sikari Rongpi and Bhaity Timung, threatening others if they would not give up their fight . The three local activists have been protesting against the acquisition of their land for the construction of a solar power plant. The Company involved in this land dispute is Azure power Forty Pvt Ltd., a subsidiary of Azure Power global, a leading player in solar power in India.
The dispute started last 12th March 2020 when six residents of Amdanga received a notice from the Samuguri circle officer asking them to present any objection against the demarcation of land for the solar power plant in merely 24 hours. The land acquired for the project is 276 bighas (70 hectares). This was clearly carried on under very short notice and under lockdown restrictions, adding to the already burden and mistress caused by the global pandemic.
The validity of the land deal was challenged in court. The locals of Mikir Bamuni Grant filed a petition in the Guwahati High Court (GHC) asking for a stay on the eviction and cancellation of the due order. While the 'stay' on the eviction was granted by the court on June 24, Azure Power Ltd appealed against the GHC and another notice was later sent on July 15 by the Samuguri circle Officer. On 30 September 2020, the GHC asked the Nagaon administration to hand over the land to Azure Power . The decision was highly opposed by the local people who continued to protest against the project and asserting their land rights on the land, whose Adivasi and Karbi have been cultivated in a communal way in the last decades. “We have always been united. But in the face of adversity, we are cultivating food crops together on the land which is being taken over by the power company. There is no Adivasi or Karbi land here. We are in this together," said a local from the Mikir Bamuni grant . No consultation neither public hearing was held with the local communities to understand their necessities and their feeling on the project.
However, the company claims “the land acquisition has been done fairly and lawfully with due consultation with all the stakeholders” . Indeed, as reported by V. Jairath in The Wire  the land was not acquired under the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, but it was bought from the owners, the Zamandaris, as a private land deal. As reported, in order to avoid disputes with the locals and seal the deal, the administrative state transformed the ´land grant´ of Mikir Bamuni Grant, in a miyadi patta or periodic land title, bringing this land back to the exclusive private property of the zamindar family. This denying the land use rights of the locals, who have the rights on this land acquired in 1981 under the Assam Temporarily Settled Areas Tenancy Act, 1971, according to which a tenant who has held and cultivated a piece of land for more than 3 years has the right of occupancy, an inheritable right that can only be transferred to another agriculturist .
Since land acquisition became a civil dispute with the complaints of the locals, on October 6th a lower court in Nagaon directed the district administration and the local police to not interfere in the matter. However, within two days the Azure Power´s security personnel and the police officials reached the spot with bulldozers destroying the freshly sow crops of the 36 families, "My entire 19 bigha land where I had sowed Aaho rice was ransacked by the bulldozers on October 8. If that was not enough, they drained the entire water from the area which is good for Xali (Rabi) crops," said Kro, one of the locals . That day violence against the resident was also followed by a local dispute as some were supporting the project as already contacted by the company and insured new jobs and positions under the upcoming project. Malini Doloi, Sarumai Murmu, Makoni Mardi, and Rupta Sing Narpi were badly injured during the scuffle with the policemen, while on October 9, 13 locals were arrested "Nagaon Police arrested us in the police station for allegedly beating up someone who settled for the company’s offer," Mardi, a local activist said .
In all these months the people have continued asserting their rights and cultivate on their cleared land. While the verdict in the local court was still going on, the company did not stop their plan, and on December 29, while the people were again attempting to stop the construction works, women and men were brutally attacked . Buku Mardi was beaten senseless and Shikari Rongpi´s pregnant wife was kicked in the stomach by the police leading to miscarriage . The violence was followed by large protests supported by several groups including AJYCP, Assam State Krishak Sabha, All India Krishak Sabha, MASS, Asom Mahila Sangha, and AAP demanding justice for the farmers . The All India Tribal Students Association Assam (AITSAA) challenge Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Sarbanada Sonowal of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) if this is the way tribal and indigenous people should be treated in the country and if the BJP is not anti-tribal as they assert .
The movement kept the National attention and in January a fact-finding team from Delhi went to meet the local communities. Prafulla Samantara, an important environmentalist member of the fact-finding report, and a member of the National Alliance of People Movement (NAPM) pointed that “the state must defend its people and not take the side of the company. The project appears to violate all the existing land laws that were earned through a long struggle of peasants over the sixties and seventies .” While Bhargavi Rao (Environment Support Group and Centre for Financial Accountability) said “the police violence against the local community is unacceptable. The bulldozing of standing crops by the power company in December has taken away food security of these families, that too, in a pandemic year that hit the agrarian economy hard” . The organization condemns the violence carried on against the local communities asking for a) the immediate release of the 4 arrested farmers, b) the suspension of the company work until further notice by the court, c) proper compensation by the company for physical and emotional injuries, and d) an urgent appropriate investigation on the land dispute .
The violence was also condemned by the opposition in Assam Legislative Assembly, Debabrata Saikia, who in a letter expressed shock and indignation against the police force breaking people´s house and on the arrest of the protestors, demanding that the government should immediately stop using brute force to cow down the peasants . Violence has been reported in the village since December 29 with the police entered the village every night to terrorize the people, mostly the women who have been sexually harassed .
On March 1st, good news enters the village: the land acquisition bid by Azure Power company was suspended by Justice Sanjay Kumar Medhi. It was reported that for these two months the village men have been hiding in the neighboring hills fearing arrest, while the protest was carried on by the women to keep the court's attention . However, on 10 May 2021, in the middle of the worst peak of the
COVID-19 pandemic Azure Power has re-entered the village backed with heavy
deployment to once again terrorise villagers and suppress their right to
protest against the theft of their land through coercion, violence and fear .
|Name of conflict:||Solar power plant in Mikir Bamuni Grant, Assam, India|
|State or province:||Assam|
|Location of conflict:||Mikir Bamuni Grant, Nagaon|
|Accuracy of location||HIGH (Local level)|
|Type of conflict. 1st level:||Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy|
|Type of conflict. 2nd level:||Large-scale solar plants|
Land acquisition conflicts
The 15MV solar power plant set up by the Azure Power Forty PvT Ltd,
has acquired 276 bighas (70 hectares) of fertile agricultural land. The project is part of the largest (75 MWs) solar power project in the North Eastern region of India. In 2018 the company signed a 25 year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Assam Power Distribution Company Limited (APDCL) at a weighted average tariff of INR 3.37 (~US cents 5.2) per kWh.
|Affected Population:||1500 families|
|Start of the conflict:||12/03/2020|
|Company names or state enterprises:||Azure Power Forty Pvt Ltd from India|
ASSAM POWER DISTRIBUTION COMPANY LIMITED from India
|Relevant government actors:||Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) |
State of Assam
Nagaon District Administration
|Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:||Assam State Krishak Sabha,|
All India Krishak Sabha, http://kisansabha.org/
Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS)
Asom Mahila Sangha
The All India Tribal Students Association Assam (AITSAA) https://www.facebook.com/groups/953390814756577/
Delhi solidarity Group https://delhisolidaritygroup.wordpress.com/
|Intensity||HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)|
|Reaction stage||PREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)|
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local government/political parties
|Forms of mobilization:||Involvement of national and international NGOs|
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
|Environmental Impacts||Visible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage)|
Potential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
|Health Impacts||Potential: Occupational disease and accidents|
|Socio-economical Impacts||Visible: Displacement, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place|
Potential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
|Conflict outcome / response:||Criminalization of activists|
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Project temporarily suspended
|Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:||No|
|Briefly explain:||On March 1st, 2021 the project was put on hold. However, on the 10th of May, 2021, the Central Reserve Police Force entered again the land with violence and coercion to re-acquire the land.|
|Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)|
|References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries|
|Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network|
|Contributor:||Eleonora Fanari, [email protected]|
Protest at village
Photo retrieved by: https://esgindia.org/new/campaigns/in-the-name-of-green-solar-power-project-azure-power-and-apdcl-snatching-lands-of-ryots-in-mikir-bamuni-grant/
Azure Company Strike
Photo retrieved by: https://www.insidene.com/assam-congress-debabrata-saikia-vows-to-raise-issue-of-displaced-mikir-bamuni-grant-farmers-in-assembly/
Tribal people of Mikir Bamuni Grant
Photo retrieved by: https://www.eastmojo.com/in-depth/2020/12/31/darkness-under-the-sun-the-struggles-of-an-assam-village-against-green-energy
Solar power plant under construction in Nagaon district
Photo retrieved by: https://www.counterview.net/2021/01/land-rights-wildlife-environment-assam.html