On Monday, the high-level committee constituted by the Centre finalised its report on suggestions to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, which promises safeguards to “Assamese people”.
“We completed the report on Monday, and it has been signed by all members,” said retired judge Biplab Kumar Sarma, chairman of the committee, adding that the report will be submitted “very soon”. These recommendations will now go to the Home Ministry.
While most members are tight-lipped about contents of the report, a member said on the condition of anonymity that the NRC of 1951 will “probably” be used as “base year” to identify “Assamese people who are eligible for safeguards”.
Clause 6 of Assam Accord states that “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”.
In February 2019, the Centre appointed a committee to suggest ways to implement Clause 6 of the Accord. However, the invited members refused to participate because Assam was in the throes of anti-Citizenship Bill protests at the time. The current committee, which has 14 members, was constituted via a Ministry of Home Affairs notification on July 15, 2019, and replaced the older one.
In August 2019, the committee, which includes authors, retired bureaucrats, judges, journalists and AASU leaders, sought public suggestions and mentioned three categories for reservations — “indigenous tribal”, “indigenous Assamese” and “other indigenous people of Assam” — through a public notice in newspapers across Assam.
“We have taken suggestions of more than 1,200 stakeholders. We also travelled to various districts of Assam, taking in diverse views of different people and groups,” said Sarma.
One of the key questions the report is set to answer is the definition of “Assamese people” as mentioned in the Clause 6. While the Assam Accord and NRC sets midnight of March 24, 1971 to determine who is a legal citizen, the definition of “Assamese people” eligible for the safeguards isn’t spelt out clearly.
“Yes, we have come up with a base year in the report but we must remember that the definition is not so simple. It is a tricky affair and based on a number of factors,” said a member of the committee.
Nilay Dutta, a member of the committee and Arunachal Pradesh’s advocate general, said “the definition of the ‘Assamese people’ in the report is applicable specifically to the Clause 6 of the Assam Accord. It does not mean that anyone who is included in the purview of this definition becomes ‘Assamese’ – considering it has so many other communities involved.”
The member, who preferred to remain anonymous, also said that “There are recommendations on land rights, introduction of Inner Line Permit, as well as cultural and linguistic demands.”
“We have tried our level best to cover all Terms of References — as stated in the MHA Notification — in the report,” said Sarma. The Terms of References include measures to Assamese and other indigenous languages of Assam, an appropriate level of reservation of seats in Assembly and local bodies of the Assamese people, as well as employment under the Assam government, among others.
AASU general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi, who is one of the three AASU members on the committee, said, “The entire process has been done constitutionally, legally and to fulfil the aspirations of the Assamese community.”
Bid to soothe anger
With Assam facing vehement opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which people believe poses a threat to their indigenous identity, the central government is now trying to pitch Clause 6 of Assam Accord as a balm to soothe the anger. In fact, on his recent visit to Kokrajhar on February 7, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his government’s commitment to implementing the Clause 6 at the earliest.
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