The Union Home Ministry will set up a high-level committee to look into the implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, which “envisaged that appropriate constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Wednesday.
Briefing reporters on the Cabinet decision, Singh said this was “very important from the perspective of Assam”. The composition and terms of reference of the committee, which will also look at issues related to the Bodo community, will be announced later.
Singh said the committee “will hold discussions with all stakeholders and assess the required quantum of reservation of seats in the Assam Assembly and local bodies for Assamese people”. It will also look at measures to protect Assamese and other indigenous languages of Assam, reservation in state government jobs, and other steps to protect, preserve and promote cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of Assamese people, he said.
The high-level panel will “suggest constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards”, and “examine the effectiveness of actions since 1985 to implement” the clause, a government statement said. Singh said the Assam Accord — signed between the Government of India, Assam government and All Assam Students Union (AASU) on August 15, 1985 — “wasn’t fully implemented”.
“The setting up of the committee will pave the way for the implementation of the Assam Accord in letter and spirit and will help fulfill longstanding expectations of Assamese people,” the government statement said. It said the state government will take necessary measures related to land policy and land laws, besides setting up institutions for research and documentation of customs, traditions and languages of indigenous communities.
The move comes days before a joint parliamentary committee on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is expected to table its report in Parliament.
The committee will also look into issues of the Bodo people, especially the measures mentioned in the Memorandum of Settlement signed between the Government of India, Assam government and the Bodo Liberation Tigers Force in 2003.
Explained | Under fire, the Centre’s balancing act
CLAUSE 6 of the Assam Accord says, “Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people”. The Union Cabinet’s announcement comes at a time when the BJP government is facing criticism in Assam over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which proposes to make minority (non-Muslim) immigrants from three neighbouring countries — Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan — eligible for Indian citizenship.
But as per the Assam Accord, any person who came to the state after the midnight of March 24, 1971, will be identified as a foreigner. So the proposed Bill is seen to violate the Assam Accord by differentiating between migrants on the basis of religion. The Centre’s move to set up a committee now is being seen as a balancing act, ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled rally in Silchar on January 4.