The Gauhati High Court has stayed the eviction of 244 people from Dhekiajuli town in Assam’s Sonitpur district after they were served a notice asking them to vacate a piece of land owned by the state government. The notice had accused them of allegedly encroaching the land.

The Himanta Biswa Sarma-led government has been conducting widespread eviction drives to clear plots of government land of alleged encroachment. Many of those who have been evicted or are being asked to vacate are poor Muslims who had earlier lost land in floods and erosion.

During one of these drives in October, two people were killed in Sipajhar area of the state’s Darrang district after the Assam Police opened fire on villagers protesting against the eviction.

In an order on Wednesday, the Gauhati High Court noted that the circle officer of Dhekiajuli Revenue Department had served the eviction notice to residents of Basasimalu village on November 15. The officer had asked them to vacate the land within a month, failing which action would have been taken against them.

The villagers had moved the High Court against the eviction order.

The villagers had contended that 81 persons had earlier moved the High Court against similar eviction notices, seeking a settlement on this piece of government land. These 81 petitioners had said that the land was under their possession according to a 1978 notification of the state government.

In a verdict in 1989, a division bench of the High Court had held that the petitioners should not be evicted till the matter regarding the settlement of the land was decided by an appropriate authority.

The 244 villagers, in their petition, also said that following the 1989 judgment, the government had settled the land with some of these 81 petitioners. Those who moved the current petition told the High Court that they were descendants of these 81 people.

The petitioners also said that they have filed an appeal before the state Revenue Minister Swarna Mohan Rabha, requesting not to evict them from the land and allot it to them. On December 3, they had submitted a copy of the appeal before the minister to the revenue circle officer who had issued the eviction notice.

In its order on Wednesday, the court directed the government not to take any coercive action against the villagers till they have been disposed of their December 3 representation.

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Eviction drives in Assam

The Assam government had carried out mass eviction drives in Darrang district in September.

On September 23, the eviction drive in the Sipajhar area of the district had turned violent and two civilians, including a 12-year-old child, were killed in police firing. The civilians were among villagers who were protesting against the eviction.

This was the second mass eviction drive that week. The villages that were issued eviction notices were mainly home to Muslims of Bengali origin.

On November 8, the Assam government had started evicting residents from the Lumding reserve forest in Hojai district.