At a time when Assam has been roiled by protests over the new citizenship law, the Centre Monday signed a tripartite agreement with the state government and different Bodo groups, including four factions of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), for a “permanent” solution to the Bodo issue.
The Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) with Bodo groups will pave the way for reorganisation of areas under the Bodoland Territorial Council region, enhance the powers of the BTC, increase Assembly seats from 40 to 60, rehabilitate surrendered militants of NDFB and bring a special development package of Rs 1,500 crore for the region. The agreement will also address concerns of Bodos living outside the BTC area, and promises to increase their representation in the state police and paramilitary forces.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who presided over the signing of the agreement between the Centre (through Joint Secretary Satyendra Garg), Assam (through Chief Secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna) and representatives of four NDFB factions and the All Bodo Students Union, said: “Today, with this agreement, a permanent solution has been found for a problem that has cost the region 4,007 lives. The Bodo movement was peaceful in the beginning but became violent in 1986. A peace agreement was signed in 2003, but all groups were not on board. This time, all groups are here. This is an extension of that agreement.”
Also present as witnesses to the agreement were Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, state minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and BTC chairman Hagrama Mohilary. The NDFB factions which signed the agreement included those led by Ranjan Daimary, Gobinda Basumatary, B Saoraigwra and Dhirendra Boro.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the accord would lead to “transformative results” for the Bodo people. “Bodo Accord inked today stands out for many reasons. It successfully brings together the leading stakeholders under one framework. Those who were previously associated with armed resistance groups will now be entering the mainstream and contributing to our nation’s progress,” he tweeted.
Addressing the media after the signing of the agreement, Shah said as many as 1,550 armed cadres of various NDFB factions will surrender with 130 weapons on January 30, the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
“NDFB factions coming to mainstream is welcome. I assure them that all promises made in the agreement will be fulfilled in due course. There would be an increase in the BTC area and rights. The integrity of culture, language and identity of Bodo people will be maintained. A committee is being formed for development of the tribal people and regions. There will be financial restructuring of BTC and all those who have died in the Bodo movement will get Rs 5 lakh compensation each,” Shah said, adding that the committee concerned would also decide on who can vote in the BTC region.
He also announced that cases of terrorism against Bodo militants and groups, as registered by the National Investigation Agency, “would be dealt with sympathetically”.
Chief Minister Sonowal said: “This agreement has ensured peace and wherever there is peace, there will be development. I thank all Bodo leaders.”
Himanta Biswa Sarma, present at the event as chairman of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), said the agreement in no way impacts the territorial integrity of Assam.
“A commission will be constituted to include villages which are not part of the Bodoland Territorial Administrative District (BTAD) now but are contiguous with the region and predominantly have Bodo population. The committee will also recommend exclusion of such villages from the BTAD which are currently part of the region, but are not substantially populated with tribal population. The committee will have representatives from ABSU and the present Bodo council. BTAD will also be rechristened as Bodoland Territorial Region and given more administrative and financial powers,” he said.
The BTC currently has control over 30 subjects such as education, forests, horticulture but no jurisdiction over police, revenue and general administration departments, which are controlled by the Assam government. According to the agreement, BTC will now get a DIG in addition to an IG.
Sarma said all BTAD bureaucrats would be appointed in consultation with the BTC and all the people living in the hilly areas of the region will be given the status of hills tribes.
On the culture and identity front, Sarma said the Bodo language with the Devanagari script would now be an associate official language for the entire state of Assam.
“Various social political demands of Bodos will be accommodated. BTC will be able to administer matters related to rural electrification, non-conventional energy and protection of wild life. An education package is also being given. A central university is to be set up in Barama. A national sports university will be set up in the region. NE Institute of Regional Medical Sciences, hotel management institute, Bodoland Memorial Museum and an NIT will also be set up,” Sarma said.
He said an industrial package is also being given to promote handloom, bamboo and dairy apart from opening a railway coach factory. A cancer hospital, he said, is also to come up in the region while a Bodoland guest house will be built in Mumbai.
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