The total area encroached upon includes 3,172 sq km of forest land. There are also large tracts of land belonging to Vaishnavite satras and ancient temples that have been encroached upon.
Thursday’s clash in Darrang district, which led to police firing in which two civilians were killed, took place when cops were trying to free from encroachers over 7,000 bighas (just a little over 9 sq km) of government land. On Monday, the police had cleared about 4,000 bighas of land nearby without any untoward incident. The numbers presented in the assembly formed the basis of BJP’s 2021 poll promise to remove encroachers. The previous BJP government carried out drives to evict squatters from Kaziranga National Park and from land belonging to Batadraba Than, the birthplace of Srimanta Sankardeva, a 15th-16th century CE polymath.
Encroachment of land belonging to government and religious places, mostly by Bangladesh-origin Bengali-speaking Muslim migrants, is seen as a threat to the identity of Assam’s indigenous people. In 2016, the government had set up a panel headed by former Chief Election Commissioner HS Brahma to suggest modifications in laws and policy “for ensuring protection of land rights of indigenous people.”
The panel’s report said, “…day in and day out, new areas are encroached upon by thousands of illegal Bangladeshis. Organised swarms of land-grabbing suspected Bangladeshis… equipped with construction materials and arms descend on vacant char areas (riverine islands) to establish illegal villages overnight and efforts of indigenous people to resist such organised invasions are meet with counter-resistance and armed attacks.”