Panel on Clause 6 of Assam Accord suggests cut-off year for indigenous Assamese

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Guwahati, February 25: A panel on implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord on Tuesday submitted its report to Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, suggesting among other things a definition of who can be referred to as an Assamese and also a cut-off year for identifying an indigenous person.
Justice (retd) B K Sharma, the chairman of the MHA-constituted high-level committee, handed over the report to the chief minister in the presence of the state cabinet members, top government officials and journalists.
Sharma said the 15-member committee has met people across Assam before preparing the report.
“The report was prepared well within the target time of January 15… Our term ended on February 15. An invitation had come to us to hand over the report to the chief minister for onward transmission to the Union Home Minister… That we have done today.”
Asked about the content of the report, Sharma said it would not be “prudent” on his part to say anything.
“As it has not been made public and not yet handed over to the Union Home Minister, it will be not prudent on my part to divulge anything… Wait for a while.
“We deliberated on the various clauses of the Assam Accord, visited places in Assam, and received more than 1,200 representations. We talked with the various stakeholders and then we prepared this report that we submitted today to the chief minister,” he said.
Clause 6 of the Assam Accord pledges to provide constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.
Sharma also said a definition as to who can be referred to as an ‘Assamese’ has been given in the report.
Talking about the cut-off year for identifying an indigenous person of Assam, he said, “Various suggestions were forwarded by different quarters, with some saying it should be the year of the Treaty of Yandabo 1826 (when Burma agreed to cede to the British-Assam, Manipur, Rakhine (Arakan), and the Taninthayi (Tenasserim) coast south of the Salween River).
“Some others said 1950 should be the cut-off year when India became a republic, yet another suggestion was that 1971 should be the date. After examining all suggestions, we arrived at a date we thought was right.”
The former Gauhati High Court judge also warned against incorrect information doing the rounds.
“Claims that a team from the committee is going to meet the Union Home Minister in Delhi are absolutely incorrect. Another incorrect piece of news is that it has been submitted to the state chief secretary and the Assam Accord Implementation Department.
“That department is part of us… It was kept in its custody under a sealed cover,” he clarified.
Asked why some of the members of the committee, including three top leaders of the influential All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), skipped the occasion on Tuesday, Sharma said he would not be able to comment on that.
AASU chief advisor Dr Samujjal Bhattacharya, president Dipankar Nath and general secretary Luringjyoti Gogoi – all part of the panel – were not present during Tuesday’s hand-over.
The leaders had told reporters on Monday that their “job is over as the report has been prepared”.
North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) convenor and state finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said Sonowal is scheduled to submit the report later in the day or on Wednesday to Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had in January last year announced the formation of the high-level committee, with retired Union Secretary M P Bezbaruah as its head, to look into the implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord.
However, six of the nine chosen members declined to be part of it, following which the panel was reconstituted on July 16, 2019, with 14 members and Sharma as its chairman.
The Assam Accord was a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) signed in 1985 between representatives of the central government and the leaders of the Assam Movement — a six-year-long statewide agitation seeking detection and deportation of illegal Bangladeshis — in the presence of the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in Delhi. (PTI)