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Assam Accord panel that failed to meet even once due to citizenship row gets new members

The previous committee was set up in January 2019 to look into the implementation of Clause 6 of Assam Accord. But the members resigned soon after.

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has reconstituted a high-level committee to look into the implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord after members of the previous committee, formed in January this year, withdrew from the panel in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill even before holding their first meeting.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) sent a notification to the Assam government in this regard on 15 July.

According to a source in the MHA, the previous committee, which was announced as a critical step to “safeguard” the indigenous people of Assam, did not meet even once in these six months, and was hence reconstituted — this time under a new chairman.

The previous committee was being headed by IAS officer M.P. Bezbaruah, while the new chairman is retired Gauhati High Court judge Biplab Kumar Sarma.

Other members of the nine-member panel include Advocate General, Arunachal Pradesh, Niloy Dutta, retired IAS officer Subhash Das, retired IPS officer Pallav Bhattacharya and Chief Advisor of All Assam Student Union (AASU) Dr Samujjal Bhattacharya.

What is Clause 6 of Assam Accord?

Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, 1985, deals with ensuring reservations for Assamese people in jobs, including in the Legislative Assembly and other local bodies, along with granting Scheduled Tribe status to six communities of the state.

The clause further states that the indigenous people of Assam have rights over land, and their language and culture will be protected. It also states that only those who came to Assam on or before 24 March 1971 will be recognised as citizens.

The AASU has, however, described the move to push for Clause 6 an effort to mislead people before pushing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. They argue that the introduction of the Bill would amount to nullification of Clause 6.


Also read: ‘Foreigners’ in Assam tribunals are just unlucky Indians fighting cruel paperwork demands


 

“According to the Assam Accord, people in Assam who came in or before 1971 can stay irrespective of their religion, but part 6A of the citizenship bill says that people who came to Assam even after 1971, apart from Muslims, can be given citizenship. This dilutes the existence of the Assam Accord,” AASU president Samujjal Bhattacharya told ThePrint.

“This government tried to hoodwink the people of Assam by jumping onto Clause 6 after killing Clause 5. We will not accept any approach to dilute the Accord,” he added.

The fall-out

The committee got mired in a controversy after five of its members, including chairman Bezbaruah, resigned from the panel in protest against the citizenship bill, making it dysfunctional.

Rongbong Terang, a Padma Shri recipient, and educationist Mukunda Rajbongshi were other members who dropped out of the panel. Terang said he was not ready to be a member of the panel as he had limited knowledge on Assam Accord.

Commenting on the resignations, Lurin Jyoti Gogoi, AASU general secretary, said the members took the right decision as they realised the “ineffectiveness of it all.”

“The government has betrayed our people. They have violated Clause 5 of the Assam Accord and jumped to Clause 6. By imposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, the government has also violated the directives of Supreme Court monitoring the entire NRC (National Register of Citizens) exercise based on Assam Accord,” he had told News-18.

Even after the committee’s members resigned one after the other, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had said the panel was working towards its goal, and members, including Bezbaruah, have agreed to resume their responsibilities.

On the resignations, the chief minister had said it was “unnecessary false propaganda by Congress, Leftists and some section of intellectuals and media.”

‘Ill health’, ‘personal reasons’

Advocate General, Assam, Ramesh Borpatragohain, who was a member of the previous committee and has been retained in the new panel too, told ThePrint that apart from some members protesting against the citizenship bill, others declined to be on the panel, citing “ill health” and “personal reasons”.

“The earlier committee did not work well as most members, including the chairman, refused to join citing personal reasons. Some of the members said their health will not permit the laborious work that will be required for this job,” he said. “Many did not give their consent and declined to join, because of which the government had to reconstitute it now.”

“This committee requires having people with sound knowledge about legal, constitutional, cultural and even technical matters. Hopefully, the new committee will succeed and the new members will work towards achieving the goal with greater interest,” he added.


Also read: Losing citizenship bill battle has provoked BJP to take polarisation agenda beyond Assam


 

No change in role of new committee

According to a Home Ministry official, the earlier committee was constituted to implement the objectives of the Memorandum of Settlement on Bodoland Territorial Council, 2003, apart from Clause 6 of Assam Accord.

The new committee, too, will be working towards the same goal, the official added.

“This was done after the government felt that Clause 6 of the Accord had not been fully implemented even almost 35 years of it being signed,” he said.

“The role of the previous committee was to examine the effectiveness of actions since 1985 and hold discussions with all stakeholders and assess the required quantum of reservation of seats in Assam Legislative Assembly and local bodies for Assamese people. The new committee too will be expected to do the same, but this time within a strict time frame,” he added.

The committee will also assess the requirement of measures to be taken to protect Assamese and other indigenous languages of Assam, quantum of reservation in employment under Government of Assam and other means to protect, preserve and promote cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of Assamese people.

“As work under the previous committee did not begin, the new one has been given the task to expedite work and give a report within six months. There has been a delay already,” another home ministry official said.

“The state government of Assam has also been asked to provide necessary administrative and logistic support to the committee,” he added.

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