Assam moves MSME ordinance, protests on conversion of land

The AASU protestors called the “MSME Ordinance” as a “betrayal of trust” by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government that had come to power in 2016 promising to protect ‘jati’ (race), ‘mati’ (land) and ‘bheti’ (hearth).

Guwahati: The Assam Cabinet’s approval of an ordinance to allow conversion of land without multiple clearances from the certain authorities for setting up Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) set off protests within and outside the state on Thursday.

According to police and official sources, agitators from the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) burnt copies of the “MSME Ordinance” in many parts of the state on Thursday. The AASU protestors called the “MSME Ordinance” as a “betrayal of trust” by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government that had come to power in 2016 promising to protect ‘jati’ (race), ‘mati’ (land) and ‘bheti’ (hearth).

A senior Assam government official on condition of anonymity told IANS that in a major decision to boost “Aatma Nirbhar Assam” (self reliant Assam), the council of ministers headed by Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal finalised the MSME ordinance putting an end to the process of taking multiple permissions for setting up MSMEs in the state for next three years.

Assam’s Industry and Commerce Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary has clarified that the ordinance would not be applicable for hazardous industries and for large or big industries and under the ordinance no industry would be allowed in eco-sensitive zones.

The minister said that the ordinance has been endorsed by the state Cabinet on June 29 only to facilitate the local entrepreneurs and youths in MSME sectors. AASU general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi said that the BJP government has taken advantage of the COVID-19 situation to deprive the indigenous people in the name of reviving the economy.

“Instead of seeking investments to develop the farm economy of the local people, the state government is favouring industrialists who have very limited regard for the indigenous people, the local land and the environment,” Gogoi told the media.

He said that the proposed ordinance, which awaits Assam Governor Jagdish Mukhi’s assent, would overrule all prevailing laws and violate the implementation of the Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, which gave constitutional safeguards to the genuine natives of the state.

The All Assam Tribal Sangha and Anchalik Gana Morcha also condemned the ordinance too.

Rajya Sabha member Ajit Kumar Bhuyan, who is also the chief convener of Anchalik Gana Morcha said that the “MSME Ordinance”, if approved, would be the second blow to the people of Assam after the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

The Delhi-based Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG) has urged the Assam Governor not to give his assent to the “disastrous MSME Ordinance” in the veil plea of promoting MSMEs. RRAG director Suhas Chakma in a statement said that the ordinance effectively suspends the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013, the Forest Rights Act of 2006, Chapter X of the Assam Land And Revenue Regulation of 1886, the Environment Protection Act of 1986 and the Biological Diversity Act of 2002, which prohibit certain land acquisition and prescribe the manner in which land can be acquired.

Chakma said that there is no provision either in the Indian Constitution or in the existing laws to suspend their operation for the purposes of acquiring lands to set up industries. “The ordinance would be disastrous for the MSMEs as their investment shall remain stuck because of the illegality of land acquisition,” the RRAG director said.

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