Centre Sets up Panel to Assess How Many Assembly Seats to Be Reserved for Assamese

The move came amid strong protests against Modi's statement on Friday that the central government would amend the Citizenship Act to provide non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Indian nationality.

New Delhi: The Centre has set up a high-level committee to assess the quantum of seats to be reserved in the Assam Assembly and local bodies for the Assamese people, besides providing other safeguards.

The move came amid strong protests in Assam against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement on Friday that the central government would amend the Citizenship Act to provide non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Indian nationality.

Major students’ bodies, social and other organisations have called a ‘bandh’ in the Northeast on January 8 against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which is expected to be discussed in Lok Sabha on Monday.

The high-level committee, to be headed by former Union tourism secretary M.P. Bezbaruah, was set up as per the Clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord, the Home Ministry said.

“The committee will assess the appropriate level of reservation of seats in Assam Legislative Assembly and local bodies for the Assamese people.

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“The committee will recommend the appropriate level of reservations in employment under the government of Assam for the Assamese people,” the home ministry notification said.

Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal welcomed the constitution of the committee, saying the panel will work to fulfil a long-standing demand of the people of Assam to reserve seats in the assembly and local bodies for the indigenous people.

“It is a very significant decision which came 35 years after the Assam Accord was signed,” Sonowal said.

Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharjya, chief advisor of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), a signatory of the Assam Accord, said the setting up of the committee is nothing but a “cover up” to the central government’s move to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955.

“The bill will kill clause 5 of the Accord which provides for deportation of all illegal immigrants, irrespective of religion, who had entered Assam after March 1971. There is no relevance of clause 6 if you kill clause 5,” he said.

The citizenship amendment bill seeks to grant Indian nationality to people belonging to minority communities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of residence in India instead of 12, even if they don’t possess any proper documentation.

This was an election promise of the BJP in 2014.

BJP MP Rajendra Agrawal, chairman of the Joint Parliamentary Committee, examining the bill, told PTI that the panel’s report will be submitted to Lok Sabha on Monday.

Opposition members in the JPC have given dissent notes against the report saying they oppose the move to grant citizenship on the basis of religion as it is against the basic tenets of the Constitution.

The home ministry notification said the committee will examine the effectiveness of actions taken since 1985 to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord.

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The notification said the panel will also hold discussions with various stakeholders, including social organisations, legal and constitutional experts, eminent persons from the field of art, culture and literature, conservationists, economists, linguists and sociologists.

It will submit its report within six months from the date of notification (January 5).

The clause 6 of the Accord states: “Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people”.

Besides, Bezbarauah, a retired IAS officer, the members of the panel are: former IAS officer Subhash Das, Nagen Saikia, former President, Assam Sahitya Sabha, Dhiren Bezbaruah, former editor of The Sentinel, Mukunda Rajbangshi, educationalist, Ramesh Borpatragohain, advocate general of Assam, Rongbong Terang, former president of the Assam Sahitya Sabha, and one representative of the All Assam Students’ Union.

The joint secretary in the Home Ministry will be member secretary.