Restoring mutual trust is government’s immediate priority

With over 3,92,000 people taking shelter in 270 relief camps in the violence-hit Kokrajhar, Chirang, Dhubri and Bongaigaon districts, the focus is on their rehabilitation, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said on Friday.

The death toll in the clashes between the miscreants among Bodos and Muslims has gone up to 45. Talking to journalists here, the Chief Minister said this was the biggest-ever flight of people to relief camps in the State and the immediate priority was to restore mutual trust among the people so that they could return home.

Mr. Gogoi claimed that only because of rumours had such a large number of people taken shelter in the camps though the death toll was less than what it was in the past six major conflicts in the State. He said the government was trying to find out whether any particular force was spreading rumours to create panic.

Normality returning

Mr. Gogoi claimed that the situation was slowly returning to normality. Barring three incidents of house-burning in Baksa district, nothing untoward had been reported since Thursday.

The Chief Minister rejected the demand for his resignation as his quitting at this juncture would only add to chaos. He urged the electronic media not to repeatedly telecast file footage of the violence. “Let media report incidents. I will be happy if they also show return of normalcy. If the media give a distorted picture, it amounts to abetment of violence.”

On relief to the victims, Mr. Gogoi said that apart from payment of an ex gratia of Rs. 6 lakh to the next of kin of each of those killed, Rs. 50,000 to those who suffered grievous injuries and Rs. 10,000 to those with minor injuries, the government would provide tin bundles and Rs. 20,000 to those whose houses were burnt, Rs. 1,300 for clothes and Rs. 1,400 for utensils to those who had lost them. Mr. Gogoi identified a “feeling of deprivation and conflict of interests prevailing among various communities in the State” as the root cause of the current trouble between Bodos and Muslims and said that only through economic development could this strife be resolved.

He said the Muslims affected in the current violence were all Indian citizens and not “Bangladeshis” as alleged by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He alleged that the BJP had been trying to give the clashes a communal colour.

The Chief Minister said that though only tribals could enjoy exclusive land rights in tribal belts and blocks, the Bodo Accord ensured that in the four Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri all non-Bodo communities continued to enjoy their land rights even after creation of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) that governed BTAD.

When journalists referred to a statement reportedly made by Joint Secretary (North-East) at the Ministry of Home Affairs Sambhu Singh that the situation could have been contained if the Army had been deployed on day one, Mr. Gogoi shot back: “Why did they not deploy the Army when we gave the requisition? I immediately spoke to the Army General, Defence Minister.”

He denied getting any intelligence input from the Central government prior to the clashes. He, however, added that he did not want to blame the Centre as the system was such that it took time for deployment of Army troops and central forces.

He also pointed out that the strength of the central forces in the State was reduced from about 140-150 companies to 96 much against his wishes.

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