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Amid Anti-Citizenship Act Protests, Assam Govt Plans Land and Language Rights for Indigenous People

File Photo of  Sarbananda Sonowal (Image: PTI)

File Photo of Sarbananda Sonowal (Image: PTI)

Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, however, said that that the recommendations of Clause 6 implementation committee on the definition of 'indigenous' is awaited.


Karishma Hasnat

Guwahati: As efforts to convince people on the amended Citizenship Act seem to go in vain, the BJP-led government in Assam on Saturday announced its commitment to safeguard the language and land rights of the indigenous people.

Citing the need for strong land rights, Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma announced that the state government will introduce two new legislation to ensure “land of the indigenous people remain with the indigenous population”.

“It has been noticed in Barpeta and Dhubri districts that the indigenous people of Assam are abandoning their land while moving to others places due to economical or other reasons. The new bill would ensure that indigenous people sell land only to indigenous people of Assam,” said Sarma, adding that the modalities for the new legislation have been discussed, and the government will bring the bill in the next session of Assam Legislative Assembly.

However, the minister said the recommendations of Clause 6 implementation committee on the definition of "indigenous" is awaited, and if the committee is late to submit its report, the government is expected to go ahead with its own definition of the term and enact the law.

The state has seen the largest anti-government demonstrations in recent times, with people refusing to back down till the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act is withdrawn.

The government is also working out a framework for a new Heritage Protection Bill that would protect the 'Satra' (Vaishnavite socio-cultural institution) land and heritage sites in the state.

“A number of land grabbing cases have come to light in the heritage sites and the Satras — the new Heritage Protection bill will safeguard the Satra land. If anyone buys, encroaches upon or sells Satra land or any heritage area, he or she will be considered a criminal offender punishable under law,” said Sarma while announcing the cabinet decisions.

The Assam government will also approach the Union government to amend Article 345 of the Constitution, and declare Assamese as the state language, excluding Barak Valley, Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD), and the Hill districts.

The Sarbananda Sonowal government will introduce a legislation in the next Assembly session making Assamese language a compulsory subject in all English and other medium schools, including Kendriya Vidyalayas up to Class 10.

The state would also request for Constitutional status to the six Tribal Development Councils — Mising, Rabha, Thengal Kachari, Sonowal Kachari, Deori and Tiwa — so that they can receive funds from both Central and state governments, besides other rights and privileges.

“The Chief Executive Member of all tribal autonomous councils will be ex-officio members of Sub-divisions Land Advisory Committee of Sub-divisions within their territorial jurisdiction,” said Sarma.

The state cabinet also decided to create three new autonomous councils for three communities of Assam — Koch Rajbongshi, Matak and Moran.

“A new autonomous council will be formed for Koch Rajbongshi community that has made significant contribution to the history of Assam — the Kamatapur Autonomous Council will be constituted under undivided Goalpara district, excluding BTAD and Rabha Hasong areas. Similarly, two new Autonomous Councils, for Moran and Matak communities will be created. A Rs 500-crore special package announced in budget for Moran, Matak, Chutiya and Ahom communities will be divided equally among them and each community will get Rs 125 crore. The Tai Ahom Development Council, Chutiya Development Council and Koch Rajbongshi Development Councils will be restructured with substantial budget allocations,” said Sarma.

“The Medical, Engineering, Agriculture and Veterinary Science and PG seats in general universities will be reserved for Tai Ahom, Koch Rajbongshi and Chutiya communities,” he added.

Apart from this, the Sonowal cabinet also decided to increase the wages of the labourers of Assam Tea Corporation from Rs 137 to Rs 167 per day in Brahmaputra Valley, and from Rs 115 to Rs 145 per day in Barak Valley — the changes will be implemented from January 1, 2020.

In another significant announcement, Sarma said the Bodo Peace Accord would be concluded soon and a request would be made to the Centre in this regard.

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