After its largely unsuccessful efforts in convincing people to accept the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the BJP-led government in Assam on Saturday announced its commitment to safeguarding the language and land rights of the indigenous people. The state has seen the largest anti-government demonstrations in recent times, with people refusing to back down till the unpopular legislation is withdrawn.
Citing the need for strong land rights, Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma announced that the state government will introduce two new legislations to ensure “land of the indigenous people remains with the indigenous population”.
“It has been noticed in Barpeta and Dhubri districts that the indigenous people of Assam are abandoning their land while moving to other places due to economical or other reasons. The new bill would ensure that indigenous people sell land only to indigenous people of Assam,” said Himanta Biswa Sarma, adding that the modalities for the new legislation have been discussed, and the government will bring the bill in the next session of Assam Legislative Assembly.
However, the minister said that the recommendations of Clause 6 implementation committee on the definition of "indigenous" is awaited, and if the committee is late to submit its report, the government is expected to go ahead with its own definition of indigenous and enact the law.
The government is also working out the framework for a new Heritage Protection bill that would protect the Satra (Vaishnavite socio-cultural institution) land and heritage sites in the state.
“A number of land grabbing cases have come to light in the heritage sites and the Satras- the new Heritage Protection bill will safeguard the Satra land. If anyone buys, encroaches upon or sells Satra land or any heritage area - it will be considered a criminal offence punishable under law,” said Sarma while announcing the state cabinet decisions.
The Assam government will also approach the Union government to amend Article 345 of Constitution of India, and declare Assamese as the state language - excluding Barak Valley, Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD), and the Hill districts.
According to the state cabinet decision, the Sarbananda Sonowal government will introduce legislation in next Assembly Session making Assamese language a compulsory subject to be taught in all English and other medium schools including Kendriya Vidyalaya up to Class 10.
The state would also request for Constitutional status to the six Tribal Development Councils - Mising, Rabha, Thengal Kachari, Sonowal Kachari, Deori and Tiwa - so that they can receive fund from both Central and State Governments beside other rights and privileges.
“The Chief Executive Member of all tribal autonomous councils will be ex-officio members of Sub-divisions Land Advisory Committee of Sub-divisions within their territorial jurisdiction,” said Himanta Biswa Sarma.
The state cabinet also decided for the creation of three new autonomous councils for three communities of Assam - Koch Rajbongshi, Matak and Moran.
“A new autonomous council will be formed for Koch Rajbongshi community that has made a significant contribution to the history of Assam — the Kamatapur Autonomous Council will be constituted under undivided Goalpara district excluding BTAD and Rabha Hasong areas. Similarly, two new Autonomous Councils, for Moran and Matak communities will be created. A Rs 500 crore special package announced in the budget for Moran, Matak, Chutiya and Ahom communities will be divided equally among them and each community will get Rs 125 crore. The Tai Ahom Development Council, Chutiya Development Council and Koch Rajbongshi Development Councils will be restructured with substantial budget allocations,” said Sarma.
“The Medical, Engineering, Agriculture and Veterinary Science and PG seats in general universities will be reserved for Tai Ahom, Koch Rajbongshi and Chutiya communities,” he added.
Apart from this, the Sonowal cabinet has also decided to increase the wages of the labourers of Assam Tea Corporation from Rs 137 to Rs 167 per day in Brahmaputra Valley, and from Rs 115 to Rs 145 per day in Barak Valley - the changes will be implemented from January 1, 2020.
In another significant announcement, Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that the Bodo Peace Accord be concluded expeditiously and a request will be made to the Government of India in this regard