Indigenous communities in Assam may soon be prevented from transferring land to the non-indigenous, according to Assam’s Health and Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
In a move that is believed to be a direct fallout of the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the State Cabinet headed by Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal took a slew of decisions that are aimed at assuaging the indigenous communities. Prime among them was the announcement about introducing a bill in the next session of the State Assembly for ensuring the protection of land rights of the indigenous people.
“Such a move could not be approved as a committee formed to define indigenous Assamese people for constitutional safeguards under Clause 6 of the Assam Accord is yet to submit its report,” Mr. Sarma told reporters after the meeting of the Council of Ministers. “Otherwise, we are clear about who is indigenous, and they are not those who came to Assam before 1971, 1951 or even 1941,” he added.
Industries and Commerce Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary said the State government would also bring in a legislation making it mandatory for Assamese language to be a compulsory subject in all English and other medium schools. “But this law will not apply to the hill districts, Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD), Bodo-dominated areas and Barak Valley,” he added.
While English is the official language in the Karbi and Dimasa tribe-dominated hill districts, Bodo and Bengali are the official languages in the Bodo tribal areas and Barak Valley respectively.
The Cabinet also resolved to request the Centre for amending Article 345 of the Constitution for declaring Assamese as the State language of Assam excluding Barak Valley, BTAD and the hill districts.
Focus on tribal areas
The focus of the Cabinet meeting was on tribal areas and the six communities — Adivasi (”tea tribe”), Chutiya, Koch-Rajbongshi, Moran, Matak and Tai-Ahom — who are demanding Scheduled Tribe status.
New autonomous councils would be created for the Moran and Matak communities, who would along with the Chutiya and Tai-Ahom, be given ₹125 crore each as a special package. In addition, the development councils for the Chutiya, Koch-Rajbongshi and Tai-Ahom communities would be restructured, the ministers said.
A new autonomous council for the Koch-Rajbongshi, named Kamatapur, would be created in western Assam’s Goalpara district excluding areas under BTAD and an existing autonomous council for the Rabha tribe. Kamatapur is the name of the State that the Koch-Rajbongshis have been demanding for decades.
The Cabinet also approved the upgrading of existing tribal autonomous councils — Deori, Mising, Rabha, Sonowal Kachari, Thengal Kachari and Tiwa — for granting constitutional status to enable the receipt of more funds from the Centre and the State and for safeguarding land rights.
For the Adivasis, a key vote bank that swung from the Congress to the ruling BJP, the Cabinet resolved to increase the allocation of the Tea Tribe Welfare Department. Other measures approved include reserving seats in colleges for Adivasi students and starting 100 schools in tea garden areas.