Less than two weeks after the Union Cabinet announced a high-level committee to implement Clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord, its chairman and former Union tourism secretary M P Bezbaruah has refused to be a part of the panel, becoming the fifth of its nine members to drop out. Without the presence of those members, he said, the committee “becomes defunct”.
Speaking to The Sunday Express over the phone, Bezbaruah said, “I have informed the Home Ministry about my decision. It is untenable for me to continue in the committee when the representatives of the civil society have refused to be a part of it. Being the head of a committee without civil society members does not make any sense.”
The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) was the first to pull out of the committee, which was set up on January 2 to look into implementing Clause 6 of the Accord, pitched as a step towards protecting the interests of the Assamese community in terms of reservation of Assembly seats, protection of Assamese and other indigenous languages, and job quotas. This was followed by resignations from the committee of two presidents of the Assam Sahitya Sabha, Nagen Saikia and Rongbong Terang, and educationist Mukunda Rajbangshi.
The members resigned in protest against the government going ahead with the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016, which violates one of the basic provisions of the Assam Accord.
Bezbaruah said he had been planning to hold the first meeting of the committee at the earliest. “I had accepted the invitation from the government thinking firstly, that I can make some contribution (towards Assam) and secondly, that the committee was for protection of the cultural, linguistic and constitutional safeguards of Assamese people. Also, that the committee has representatives from Assamese cultural, literature sphere, including AASU,” he said. When he got to know that several members had resigned, he added, “I told the Ministry that in view of that (the resignations), the committee becomes defunct and the position of the chairman becomes redundant. I have not said that I am resigning, I have informed them that they can take a decision on this now.”
Bezbaruah, who has been a part of several government-appointed panels, said the Home Ministry was yet to respond to his communication. A Home Ministry spokesperson was unable to confirm whether the ministry had received the communication from Bezbaruah.
Assam and other parts of the Northeast are seeing massive protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which has been passed by the Lok Sabha and introduced in the Rajya Sabha. The legislation seeks to grant citizenship to immigrants belonging to minority communities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians (essentially non-Muslims) from neighbouring countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of residence in India instead of 12, even if they don’t possess proper documents. This is available to all those who have entered India till December 31, 2014.
In contrast, the 1985 Assam Accord provides for deportation of anyone, irrespective of religion, who has come to the state after March 24, 1971.
The members who remain in the committee now are Joint Secretary (Northeast) in the Ministry, who is nominated as member-secretary of the panel, former IAS officer Subhash Das, former editor of The Sentinel Dhirendra Nath Bezboruah, and advocate general of Assam Ramesh Borpatragohain.