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Two civilians were killed and nine policemen injured at Dholpur in Assam’s Darrang district on Thursday as an eviction drive to reclaim government land from allegedly illegal settlers triggered mob fury and instant reprisal, including firing from all sides at a man charging at the cops with a stick before raining batons on him as he lay on the ground.

Outrage over the police firing was amplified by a purported viral video of the clash that shows a civilian jumping on and hitting the man felled by gunshots moments earlier. The accused, identified as a photographer accompanying the eviction party, has been arrested, special DGP G P Singh said.

Assam News
Assam News

According to some eyewitnesses, the photographer had been chased by the man who was later shot by the police.

The two casualties in the clash were identified as Saddam Hussain and Sheikh Farid, but there was no official confirmation of whether one of them was the villager seen in the video. A police officer of ASI rank was admitted to Gauhati Medical College and Hospital in a critical condition.

The state government instituted an inquiry into the circumstances leading to the death of the two civilians and injury to some, including cops. A retired judge of the Gauhati high court will conduct the probe.

The official version is that the police initially fired in the air and burst tear gas shells to disperse protesters resisting the eviction. “The police were given a task to evict the encroachers and were carrying out their work when they were attacked by people with stones and sharp weapons.

There was firing from the police. The eviction drive will continue,” CM Himanta Biswa Sarma said.

The area, spanning 7000 bighas of government land, is part of a community farming project cleared by the state cabinet recently. Last Monday, the district administration evicted 800 households in the first phase of eviction without any untoward incident being reported.

Thursday’s drive was meant to evict the remaining 500 households who had been served notices the previous day.

Villagers said they had gathered to demand rehabilitation of nearly 800 families evicted from the land they claimed to have been living in for decades.

Congress’s Rahul Gandhi termed the police action “state-sponsored fire”. He tweeted, “Assam is on state-sponsored fire. I stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the state – no children of India deserve this.”

Assam Congress president Bhupen Kumar Borah said “the very act of eviction is in itself inhuman, especially during the Covid situation”.

AIUDF general secretary Aminul Islam likened the firing to that of the “Jallianwala Bagh massacre ordered by General Dyer”.
“We cannot accept it. It shows that the CM is taking sadistic pleasure out of it,” he said.
The Gauhati high court, on May 10, had kept in abeyance any decree for eviction or dispossession or demolition which was passed by any court, tribunal or authority in view of the pandemic but vacated the order in August on grounds that the Covid situation in the state has improved.

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Assam additional advocate general PN Goswami said, “The high court order on May 10 in a suo moto PIL deals with a ‘decree’ by a court, tribunal or authority and execution thereof. According to me, eviction of illegal encroachers from government land or inside a reserve forest does not warrant any ‘decree’ from any court or tribunal or authority. Moreover, even such an interim order was vacated by the Hon’ble high court vide order dated August 13. As such, presently the Government is at liberty to evict all illegal encroachers from government as well as forest land.”
The BJP-led government has ordered a series of evictions across the state to remove allegedly illegal settlers occupying land belonging to Vasihnavite satras, ancient temples and the government.

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