The Gauhati High Court has issued a notice to Union Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Ranee Narah and others for encroaching on 76.8 acres of government land to set up a tea plantation in Assam's Lakhimpur district. The court also issued notices to six other firms and individuals for encroaching upon another 136.4 acres (341 bighas).
Justice Hrishikesh Roy gave the respondents four weeks to file their affidavits.
In their petition filed in the court, one Jagadish Doley and some villagers of the district alleged that the Narah Tea Company Limited had encroached upon 76.8 acres (192 bighas) of government land under three revenue circles. The plantation is jointly owned by Ranee Narah and her husband, former Assam minister Bharat Narah. Bharat Narah is currently Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi's media advisor.
The petitioners contested that the area used to be a forest land until 1996 when the state government allowed locals, displaced by flood and erosion, to settle there. It is alleged that the displaced people were chased away before the plantation was set up on the encroached land. "Thereafter, other private parties also started encroaching and setting up plantations," the petitioners said.
In March 2012, Assam's revenue minister Prithibi Majhi had admitted in the assembly that the Narah Tea Co Ltd had encroached upon 192 bighas.
However, on September 9 2013, Lakhimpur deputy commissioner (DC) told the court that the minister's tea plantation had encroached upon 42 bighas or 16.8 acres. The petitioners termed the DC's report as 'distortion of facts'.