Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb turned down the request of his Mizoram counterpart Zoramthanga to reconsider resettling the Bru community people in the Jampui Hills and the adjoining areas of North Tripura district on Monday, saying what the people of his state want would be implemented.
Thousands of Bru people have been living in relief camps in North Tripura district since 1997. They had fled Mizoram because of ethnic clashes. Several attempts to repatriate them have failed and by now, the number of these internally-displaced people has risen to around 34,000.
A quadripartite agreement signed on January 16 by representatives of the Brus and the central, Tripura and Mizoram governments in New Delhi allowed these tribal people to permanently settle in Tripura.
Zoramthanga, in a letter to Deb on May 29, said, "There has been ethnic tension and upheaval between the Mizos and Brus both in Mizoram and Tripura and any strain between the two communities in Tripura will no doubt have repercussions in Mizoram and vice versa, which could defeat the very purpose and spirit of the agreement."
He urged Deb to "immediately reconsider and cancel" the proposal for resettling the Brus at the Jampui Hills and the adjoining areas as those were the "traditional habitat" of the Mizos in Tripura.
"I do not know how he can make such a request. What the people of Tripura want would be implemented. We live in a federal structure. If he had anything to say, he should have told it to the Union home minister or the prime minister. I always keep in touch with them," Deb said when asked about the issue here.
Besides writing to Deb, Zoramthanga sent a letter on the issue to Union Home Minister Amit Shah on the same day.
The Mizoram chief minister's letters to Deb and Shah followed a recent demonstration by the members of an NGO of the Mizos against the Bru resettlement in Jampui Hills, who claimed that it would have a social, economic, political and demographic impact and result in inter-community clashes and exploitation of resources and green forest area.
An organisation of the Brus said an amicable solution to their problems could not be achieved in 23 years due to the noncooperation of Mizoram and now its "interference" was not desired.
"We consider Zoramthanga's request a veiled threat to the Brus who are living in Mizoram for ages," Mizoram Bru Displaced People's Forum general secretary Bruno Msha said.
An official associated with the resettlement project said only two of the 12 proposed sites for resettling the Brus were unanimously accepted. "They had some objections about the other spots and a discussion is on," he said.
On January 17, a day after the agreement was signed, the Tripura chief minister had said it would take at least six months to resettle the 34,000-odd members of the community.
According to the agreement, each Bru family would get a 1,200-square-foot plot and Rs 1.5 lakh to build a house, a Rs-four lakh fixed deposit and Rs 5,000 per month, along with free ration for the next two years.
A total amount of Rs 600 crore was sanctioned to resettle them within Tripura. They are now staying in six camps at Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-divisions of North Tripura district.
The agreement was signed a month and a half after the ninth initiative to send the Bru refugees back to Mizoram failed. Of the targeted 4,447 families, the chief minister had said only 350 could be repatriated.
The vexed Bru issue started from September, 1997, following demands of a separate autonomous district council by carving out areas of western Mizoram adjoining Bangladesh and Tripura.
The situation was aggravated by the killing of a forest guard in the Dampa Tiger Reserve in western Mizoram by Bru National Liberation Front insurgents on October 21 that year.
The first attempt to repatriate the Brus from Tripura was made in November, 2009.