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Death Toll in Tripura Refugee Resettlement Protests Rises to 2, Nearly 35 Injured

Representative image.

Representative image.

The agitation and indefinite shutdown continued for the seventh day in northern Tripura's Kanchanpur subdivision where people are opposing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Tripura government's decision to rehabilitate thousands of Reang or "Bru" tribal refugees.

With firefighter Biswajit Debbarma succumbing to his injuries on Sunday, the death toll in the Tripura violence rose to two, and the number of injured reached 35.

The agitation and indefinite shutdown continued for the seventh day in northern Tripura’s Kanchanpur subdivision where people are opposing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Tripura government’s decision to rehabilitate thousands of Reang or “Bru” tribal refugees.

The Reang tribal refugees sheltered in seven relief camps in two northern Tripura sub-divisions had fled to adjoining Mizoram 23 years ago, following ethnic strife in the state.

Northern Tripura Deputy Inspector General of police, Lalhminga Darlong, told IANS on Sunday that one firefighter had died on late Saturday night at the Govind Ballabh Pant Medical college and hospital (GBPMCH) in Agartala.

Earlier, the police said 45-year-old Srikanta Das from Tripura was shot dead and 35 others injured, including security and fire service personnel, besides, agitators were also critically injured on Saturday when police opened fired at the violent mob which had attacked the security forces at Panisagar in North Tripura district.

North Tripura District Magistrate and Collector Nagesh Kumar said the violent mob damaged three government and police vehicles, including a motorbike. He told the media that a huge contingent of security forces, including Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Tripura state Rifle troopers, led by senior police officials were mobilised at Panisagar and Kanchanpur sub-divisions in the North Tripura district to deal with the situation.

The injured persons were admitted to various government hospitals, including GBPMCH.

Tripura government spokesman and Law and Education Minister, Ratan Lal Nath, said the state government would provide Rs five lakh compensation to the family of the deceased Srikanta Das.

“A magisterial inquiry has been ordered into the police firing. If the agitators want talks with Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb they are free to do so. The Tripura government’s doors for dialogue are always open,” Nath told IANS on Sunday.

The minister said the state government with the help of the Central government had earlier announced that 35,000 Reang tribal or “Bru” refugees, who fled from Mizoram would be rehabilitated in the state’s eight districts and not only in North Tripura district.

Tripura police tweeted, saying, “The unfortunate incident at North Tripura was a law and order issue, but several videos are being circulated on social media giving it a communal violence spin, which is a punishable legal offence.”

“Even after facing violent attacks, the police personnel maintained restraint and sensitivity in controlling law and order and used proportionate forces for self- defence in the Panisagar incident on Saturday.”

Another police official tweeted, “A mob on Saturday blocked the National Highway-8 at Panisagar and subsequently turned violent and broke the police barricades forcing the police to resort to lathicharge and firing teargas shells before open firing at the furious mob.”

Normal life has been crippled in northern Tripura’s Kanchanpur sub-division, adjoining Panisagar sub-division and Mizoram, for the seventh day on Sunday with simmering tensions.

The situation remained tense in Tripura as the Joint Movement Committee (JMC) called for an indefinite shutdown since November 16 in the Kanchanpur sub-division protesting against the Tripura and Central governments’ decision to rehabilitate nearly 35,000 Reang tribal refugees who had fled from Mizoram in 1997 due to ethnic violence.

The agitations since November 19 spread to the nearby sub-divisions and districts, including Panisagar, as the state administration did not take swift measures to quell the situation and hold talks with the protesters.

According to police, the situation in the mixed populated sub-division in Kanchanpur further deteriorated after a few tribal refugees attacked a non-tribal pump operator, including 36 houses of non-tribals, on Tuesday evening forcing more than 110 people to flee to safer places.

Kanchanpur Sub-Divisional Police official, Bikramjit Sukladas, said the government offices, markets, shops and business establishments remained closed while all types of vehicles except the security forces, health services and the media, remained off the roads since November 16.

Defying prohibitory orders under Sec 144 CrPc, nearly 12,000 to 15,000 bandh supporters, including students, women and children, have organised protest rallies outside government offices and markets in Kanchanpur since November 16.

Earlier, Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb said in Agartala that the process of rehabilitation of the tribal refugees was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic but the Centre and the state government are committed to settle these migrants in Tripura.

JMC Convener Sushanta Bikash Barua said they had earlier welcomed the state government’s decision rehabilitating a small number of the tribal refugees in Kanchanpur.

He said, “Considering the area and demography of the Kanchanpur sub-division, we had urged the government several times to rehabilitate not more than 500 refugee families here, but the government unilaterally initiated the process settling 5,000 tribal families in the area.”

The two organisations — Nagarik Suraksha Mancha (Citizen Protection Forum) and Mizo Convention, both representing the non-tribals and Lusai (Lushai) tribals — are part of the JMC.

An agreement was signed in January this year by the Chief Secretaries of Mizoram, Tripura and the representatives of the refugees in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah to end the 23-year-old crisis by rehabilitating more than 35,000 refugees from 5,400 families of the Reang community in Tripura.

As per the agreement, which came after the Tripura CM in November 2019 had agreed to accept the tribal refugees, the Reangs, and rehabilitate them in Tripura and provide financial aid for their rehabilitation. They will be included as voters in Tripura as per the agreement.

The Centre has announced a Rs 600 crore package for the settlement of the Bru tribals, recognised as a primitive tribe in Tripura. Of the package, Rs 150 lakh will be earmarked to the Tripura government for land acquisition and the rest would be spent for the welfare of these tribals.

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first published:November 22, 2020, 18:33 IST