NE Dispatch: Arunachal Under Fire for Tibetan Refugee Policy; CBI to Probe Lafiqul Islam’s Murder

A roundup of news this week from the northeast.

Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu with the Dalai Lama during his visit to the state. Credit: PTI

Arunachal Pradesh: State government adopts rehabilitation policy for Tibetan refugees

The BJP government in Arunachal Pradesh has decided to adopt the rehabilitation policy for Tibetan refugees formulated by the Narendra Modi government in 2014 to extend facilities to them under the government schemes, besides easing the process of finding jobs and getting land lease documents for their settlements. The decision has triggered severe protests from local student bodies, civil society organisations and political parties.

As per the central policy, the state government should sign a lease document for the land occupied by the Tibetan refugees for a period of 20 years or till it is revoked or cancelled. The refugees would thereafter be eligible to benefit from various government schemes, such as MGNREGA, the Public Distribution System, National Food Security Act, India Awas Yojana, National Rural Livelihoods Mission, Rajiv Awas Yojana and National Rural Health Mission, besides availing infrastructural facilities like electrification, roads and drinking water supply in and around their settlements. The refugees will also be able to compete for jobs as per their qualifications.

On August 17, in a letter to Lobsang Sangay, president of the Tibetan central administration in Dharamshala, Arunachal chief minister Pema Khandu, a Buddhist and an ardent follower of the Dalai Lama, wrote, “I am happy to inform you that in a cabinet meeting convened by me on August 12, 2017, I along with my colleagues decided to adopt and extend the Tibetan rehabilitation policy 2014 in the state of Arunachal Pradesh.”

“As you are aware, Arunachal Pradesh has the fourth largest number of Tibetans in India. We have four Tibetan settlements, Tezu (in Lohit district), Miao (in Changlang district), Tuting (Upper Siang district) and Tenzingaon (West Kameng district). Therefore, in order to provide better opportunities to Tibetan youths residing in Arunachal Pradesh, my cabinet resolved to implement the Tibetan rehabilitation policy as framed by the government of India,” he added.

The government’s decision has, however, been severely criticised by the powerful All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU) and NEFA Indigenous Human Rights Organisation among other civil society bodies besides political parties like the People’s Party of Arunachal and Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee. They have demanded a rollback, claiming that the decision would affect the indigenous tribal population of the state, especially in grabbing employment opportunities and other facilities under the government schemes.

“Though states like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Karnataka didn’t oppose the settlement of Tibetan refugees in their respective states, and went ahead with the centre’s policy, the matter is different in the case of Arunachal Pradesh,” AAPSU president Hawa Bagang said in a statement.

On August 30, AAPSU, in a meeting, stated that the policy “overrode the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations Act of 1873 and the government should take opinions from various sections of the people, NGOs, students’ community and all other stakeholders before taking a decision on such a sensitive issue, which would have a direct effect on the socio-economic condition and demography of the state.”

The AAPSU has long been opposed to rehabilitation of the Chakma and Hajong refugees residing in the state since the 1960s on the ground that they are not indigenous tribes of the state. Despite a Supreme Court directive, the central government has not been able to grant Indian citizenship to these refugees due to the strong public protest spearheaded by AAPSU.

In a release issued after the August 30 meeting, Bagang said, “There are people such as Chakmas and Hajongs, Nepalese and Bangladeshis who are residing in the state; adoption of such a policy would invite similar demands from these communities.”

Responding to the growing unrest in the state in regard to granting facilities to the Tibetan refugees, BJP state president Tapir Gao told mediapersons on August 30 that the policy would not affect the indigenous population in any way.

“The Tibetans are not claiming any citizenship but staying in three settlements in the state in an organized way unlike the Chakma and Hajong refugees,” Gao said.

The BJP leader said the state government adopted the national policy as India is a signatory to international agreements as per which “we have to respect human rights”. According to local media reports, he said, “They are not entitled for 80 per cent posts reserved for the locals but can compete in the 20 per cent in the open category.”

However, in an apparent bid to quell the ongoing protest, Khandu told reporters on September 1 in Roing town, “The policy has only been agreed in principle and not passed in toto. It will be framed only after Arunachal comes up with its own rehabilitation policy only after consulting the stakeholders.” He said his government would never give away any kind of rights to any refugee that is detrimental to the interests of the indigenous people of Arunachal.

Slain student leader Lafiqul Islam. Credit: Facebook

Assam: CBI to investigate murder of popular Muslim student leader

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will probe the murder of All Bodo Minority Students Union (ABMSU) president Lafiqul Islam in Assam’s Kokrajhar district early this month. A popular student leader known for his progressive thoughts and criticism of the state government’s policies on Muslims, Lafiqul was murdered by unknown assailants in Titaguri market of the district. The murder triggered street protests in many places and a demand for a CBI inquiry into it from various civil society organisations.

On August 3, the state government announced formation of a special investigation team headed by inspector general of police Anurag Tankha to probe the murder. Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal also told reporters that he would write to the central government seeking a CBI probe into it.

On August 28, a press note of the state government said, “Following the Assam government’s request, the Central government has handed over the investigation of Lafiqul Islam murder case to the Central Bureau of Investigation.” The note said Union minister of state for development of northeastern region, Jitendra Singh, informed Sonowal about it over the phone earlier in the day.

The release said the state government also provided ex-gratia relief of Rs five lakh to the next of kin of the slain ABMSU leader.

Arunachal Pradesh: RSS pracharack arrested for allegedly raping minor

A pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been arrested in Arunachal Pradesh’s Namsang district on the charge of twice raping a minor.

According to the statement of the victim, a 15-year-old school girl, the 43-year-old RSS pracharak raped her in a car on August 17 and thereafter warned her not to tell it to anyone.

On August 20, the accused asked her to meet him in Namsai town following which she allegedly went missing. On failing to find her and with her phone being switched off, the parents filed a FIR in the local police station. A member of a local women’s organisation, whom the parents approached, could establish contact with the pracharak. He confirmed that the victim was with him.

On August 22, the accused was arrested by the Assam police along with the girl from near the Dhola-Sadiya bridge that connects Arunachal Pradesh with Assam and handed over to the Arunachal police.

On August 23, he was presented before a local magistrate who sent him to police custody for five days.

Given the uproar the incident has caused across the state, the RSS state unit has expelled him from the organisation.

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