The Centre Thursday signed a quadrupartite agreement to resolve the 22-year-old Bru displacement crisis in Tripura and announced that over 30,000 Bru migrants, who are languishing in six relief camps since October 1997, would be settled in the state.
The government has also declared Rs 600 crore package for resettling them.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah chaired the agreement signing ceremony in New Delhi on Thursday evening with Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb, Mizoram Chief Minister Pu Zoramthanga and leaders of Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples Forum (MBDPF), the largest forum of Bru migrants.
The agreement would basically redirect the entire package, previously announced for repatriation to Mizoram, which includes Rs 1.5 lakh housing assistance to the migrants into three installments: Rs 4 lakh one-time cash assistance for sustenance to be handed over after 3 years, Rs 5,000 monthly cash assistance, and free ration for two years to migrants who wish to be permanently settled in Tripura.
Commenting on the move, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the agreement will help the Bru refugees to benefit from numerous development schemes.
“Committed to the development of the Northeast and it’s citizens! Today’s agreement will greatly help the Bru-Reang refugees. They will also benefit from numerous development schemes. A special day indeed,” PM Modi tweeted.
Committed to the development of the Northeast and it’s citizens!
Today’s agreement will greatly help the Bru-Reang refugees. They will also benefit from numerous development schemes.
A special day indeed. https://t.co/jzlExPyjfB
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 16, 2020
A previous agreement, signed in 2018, mandated that the migrants would be repatriated to Mizoram, where they came from. However, the deal didn’t receive acceptance among a majority of migrants, who feared ethnic clashes after their return.
In the months that followed, Bru migrants assaulted few of their leaders in their camps itself, forcing them to retract from the agreement, apprehending ethnic persecution in the hands of the ethnic Mizo community, which they claim were responsible for their exodus to Tripura two decades back.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples Forum (MBDPF) president Apeto Sawibunga said, “This agreement has allowed Bru migrants, who want to stay back in Tripura, to be permanently settled in this state. They will, of course, get all benefits of the package previously announced for repatriation to Mizoram. We are happy with this agreement.”
On the issue of the previous agreement, Sawibunga today claimed two other migrant organisations apart from MBDPF – the Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples Coordination Committee (MBDPCC) and Mizoram Bru Indigenous Democratic Movement (MBIDM) – have signed the agreement this time.
“We all hope that migrants living in camps will be happy with it,” Sawibunga said.
However, few local civil societies, mostly comprising of non-tribals at Kanchanpur, were unhappy with the agreement.
Ranjit Nath, president of Nagarik Suraksha Mancha, a civil society based in North Tripura, told indianexpress.com that they are ‘unhappy’ with the agreement since they feel ethnic solidarity between tribals and non-tribals was damaged at Kanchanpur due to arrival of Bru migrants in 1997.
Nagarik Suraksha Mancha and Unnayan Mancha, two local civil society bodies of North Tripura, halted entire North and Unakoti districts of Tripura for several days after a three-day-long statewide strike called by tribal parties against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in December last year that ended with clashes between the communities.
These two organisations have held a series of protests, including strikes, mass sit-in-demonstrations, deputations in four sub-divisions of the state, on 11-point demands, the first of which seeks to immediately repatriate Bru migrants to Mizoram.
“We shall continue our agitation, our protests will go on. But if everyone in Tripura agrees to it (resettling Brus in the state), what can we say? We shall reconvene among ourselves on January 26 and decide next course of action,” Nath said.
Meanwhile, different tribal leaders, parties and tribal social organisations, including Tripura royal scion Pradyot Manikya Debbarma, sought to permanently settle Bru migrants in Tripura. Debbarma claimed people of Bru or Reang community had fled from Tripura to Mizoram when their houses were flooded due to the commissioning of the Dumboor hydroelectric power project in 1976. “Brus have a historic connection with Tripura and there is no way they wouldn’t be allowed to settle here,” Pradyot told last year, promising to buy the migrants land himself if the government fails to do so.
Hailing the Centre’s decision to settle Bru migrants in Tripura, Debbarma wrote on his Facebook page, “It’s a start and a wonderful one at that! Our Bru people have been given the rehabilitations inside Tripura! United we stand.”
37,000 people from Bru communities fled Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei districts of Mizoram during ethnic clashes in October 1997. They were sheltered in six relief camps in Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-divisions of North Tripura district.
In nine phases of repatriation since 2009, over 5,000 refugees went back to Mizoram. But many among them returned to Tripura complaining of poor living standards and insecurity. 328 families returned in the last phase of repatriation held last year.
As per government records, 32,000 Brus still live in six relief camps in Tripura’s north district as Internally Displaced Persons (IDP). But not all of them are recognized in the identification list prepared by the Mizoram government, which means the list, in its current form, might not extend resettlement benefits to all the camp residents.
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