NE Dispatch: Nagaland Withdraws Recognition of Rongmei Tribe; Ex-IB Chief Is New Assam Interlocutor

A round-up of what’s happening in India’s Northeast.

Nagaland: Government withdraws recognition of Rongmei tribe as indigenous Naga community

The Nagaland government has withdrawn the recognition of the Rongmei tribe as one of the indigenous Naga tribes of the state. An order to this effect was issued by the state government on June 2 based on a cabinet decision in April.

Local media reports quoting the state directorate of public relations said the 2012 government notification granting the status to the tribe has been withdrawn with immediate effect. It, however, said the people belonging to the tribe and their descendants would continue to enjoy the status of permanent residents of the state and the privileges thereof. In December 1983, the people of the tribe, about 1,313 in number, were identified by the state government through a special enumeration process as having permanently settled in the present territory of the state.

The state government’s 2012 decision to recognise the Rongmeis as Nagas and include them in the list of the state’s tribes has been opposed by the Nagaland Tribes Council (NTC) claiming that since a majority of Rongmei Nagas live in Manipur, the community should be considered one of the major tribes of that state instead. At a rally in Dimapur in 2014, NTC president Lendimoktong Ao said that Nagaland was formed for 14 Naga tribes and the land belonged to them.

Assam: Dineshwar Sharma replaces P.C. Haldar as Centre’s interlocutor for ULFA and NDFB peace talks

After a gap of six months, the central government has named the former intelligence bureau (IB) chief Dineshawar Sharma as the new interlocutor to take forward the peace talks with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). The term of the earlier interlocutor P.C. Haldar, also a former IB chief, ended on December 31.

Without an interlocutor, the talks were stranded, leading the Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal to meet union home minister Rajnath Singh recently to name a new person. On June 2, the home ministry appointed Sharma, an IPS officer of the 1976 Kerala cadre, who retired as the IB chief in December, for a one-year term.

According to news reports quoting ministry of home affairs officials, Haldar, an experienced Northeast hand who has been the interlocutor of peace talks with other armed outfits like the Dima Halim Daoga (Jewel) and the United People’s Democratic Solidarity, was informed by the central government in January that “the competent authority has decided not to extend the term of the interlocutor.” The sources quoted in an Indian Express report in January said the Centre wanted to carry forward the peace talks on its own now that it had a BJP government in the state.

An IPS officer of 1970 batch, Haldar was appointed by the UPA government in 2010 as its interlocutor to start the peace talks with ULFA and NDFB.

P. C. Haldar. Credit: YouTube

While the Ranjan Daimary faction of the NDFB entered into a suspension of operation (SOO) agreement with the Centre in 2013 to begin the talks, the pro-talks faction of ULFA under Arabinda Rajkhowa engaged with the central government after being released from jail at the end of 2010. About 600 cadres of both the outfits are residing in various government-run camps. While each cadre, as per the SOO agreement, is supposed to get a monthly stipend of Rs 3,000 till the final solution with the outfits’ leaders are arrived at, most complain of not having received for months together.

Expressing faith in Haldar in an interview with The Wire in October, pro-talks ULFA leader Anup Chetia said the talks were kept on hold “because the Centre wants to wait for the Supreme Court verdict on the cut-off year for citizenship of people in Assam”. A number of petitions have been filed in the apex court seeking reversal of the cut-off year from 1971 as per the Assam Accord to 1951, the year that applies to the rest of India.

The petitions have been referred to a five-member bench of the apex court.

Manipur: Indian Human Microbiome Project launched in Imphal

The department of biotechnology (DoB) has launched the Indian Human Microbiome Project in Imphal on June 4 in order to study the ethnic groups of the region and help “provide a fertile ground” for discovery of new drugs by pharma companies and researchers.

The project, a first in the Northeast, was a National Institutes of Health initiative of the US to identify and characterise microorganisms found in association with both healthy and sick human beings.

Representative image. Credit: Reuters

Speaking on the occasion, Dinabandhu Sahoo, the director of the Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development, a central government institute under the DoB, said, “Realising the importance of these microorganisms, United States of America launched the Human Microbiome Project at a cost of 215 million dollars. A similar project was also launched in Europe. These efforts led to a strong foundation to understand the impact of the human microbiome on human health and disease which range from neonatal health, gastrointestinal disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, diseases associated with skin, lung, liver, urogenital tract, neurological disorders, cancer to lifestyle associated diseases like obesity, diabetes, etc.”

Sahoo said India is a country with different ethnic groups living in different agro-climatic zones with different food habits and cultural practices. “This puts India in a unique position for the mapping of the human microbiome. The mapping and understanding of the human microbiome in India, particularly in Northeast India, which has over 220 ethnic groups living in very diverse topographies having diverse food habits, will have tremendous applications in understanding how microorganisms affect human health and disease.” He said the project would provide “a fertile ground” to the researchers and big pharma companies to discover new drugs and pharmaceuticals to cure various diseases.

The project is a collaboration with the National Centre for Cell Sciences, Pune.

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