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Govt signs accord with NDFB, ABSU to resolve Bodo issue

All Bodo Students' Union (ABSU) activists stage a protest demanding for the separate state of Bodoland, in Kokrajhar district of Assam on November 25, 2019.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the Assam government and the Bodo groups on Monday signed an agreement to redraw and rename the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) in Assam, currently spread over four districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri.

As per the agreement, villages dominated by Bodos that were presently outside the BTAD would be included and those with non-Bodo population would be excluded, Assam Finance Minister Hemanta Biswa Sarma said. Bodos living in the hills would be conferred a Scheduled Hill Tribe status, he noted.

Mr. Sarma asserted that as of now the agreement had not addressed the issue of “citizenship or work permit” for non-domiciles in the BTAD, to be renamed as the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR).

Several Bodo groups led by the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) have been demanding a separate land for the ethnic community since 1972, a movement that has claimed nearly 4,000 lives.

Pact will end crisis: Shah

Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who presided over the event, said the signing of the agreement would “end the 50-year-old Bodo crisis.”

“Today, Assam is united. Around 1500 cadres of NDFB(P), NDFB(RD) and NDFB(S) will be rehabilitated by Centre and Assam Government. They will be assimilated in the mainstream and will surrender on January 30 on Bapu’s death anniversary. No one will be called a militant now, they all are our brothers and sisters,” Mr. Shah said. 

The memorandum of settlement says that the criminal cases registered against members of the NDFB factions for “non-heinous” crimes shall be withdrawn by the Assam government and in cases of heinous crimes it will be reviewed. Civilians numbering 2,823, 239 security personnel and 939 Bodo cadres have been killed so far.

Mr. Shah said that the families of those killed during the Bodo movement would get Rs. 5 lakh each. “Final and comprehensive solution to their demands has been made, while retaining the territorial integrity of Assam. After the agreement, the NDFB factions will leave the path of violence, surrender their weapons and disband their armed organisations within a month of signing the deal.” A Special Development Package of Rs. 1500 Crore would be given by the Centre to undertake specific projects for the development of Bodo areas, he added.

When asked if the agreement was Article 370 (revoked from J&K) in a new form since it ensured special status and further autonomy for the Bodos, Mr. Shah said, “Is it your demand that Article 370 should be brought back?"

The signing of the agreement was attended by Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla and Director of Intelligence Bureau Arvinda Kumar.

Giving the contours of the memorandum, Mr. Sarma said, “A committee will decide the exclusion and inclusion of new areas in the BTAD. Subsequent to this alteration, the total number of Assembly seats will go up to 60, from the existing 40. In this committee, both the representatives of the ABSU as well as the present BTC will be present.” Bodo with Devnagri script would be the associate official language for the entire Assam.

The first Bodo accord was signed with the ABSU in 1993, leading to the creation of a Bodoland Autonomous Council with limited political powers. The BTC was created in 2003 with some more financial and other powers.

The BTAD and other areas mentioned under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution have been exempted from the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, that enables undocumented non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who entered India on or before December 31, 2014 to apply for Indian citizenship.

Recently, the MHA and the Assam government signed a suspension of operations (SoO) agreement with the NDFB-S, led by its chairman B Saoraigwra, Around 40 members of the NDFB, including Mr. Saoraigwra, were brought back from Myanmar on January 11.

The other faction of the NDFB, led by IK Songbijit, who was expelled from the group, is not a signatory to this pact. The NDFB (S) has been involved in several incidents in Assam, including the December 2014 one in which 76 persons were killed. The ban on it was extended for five years in 2019.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 1:50:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/govt-signs-accord-with-ndfb-absu-to-resolve-bodo-issue/article30665589.ece

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