The union government has formed a High Level Committee for implementation of Clause 6 of Assam Accord. On 2nd January 2019, the government had announced that it has approved the formation of a High Level Committee for implementation of the said clause.
The Assam Accord was signed on 15th August 1985, marking the end of six years long Assam agitation demanding detection and deportation of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants from Assam. The accord was signed between the Rajiv Gandhi government at the centre and the leadership of the agitation.
Although the agitation had come to an end with signing the accord, most provisions of the accord remain unfulfilled even after more than 3 decades. The main issue of illegal Bangladeshis still continues, although the process of updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state is in final stage after a long delay, which is a crucial step in this regard.
The cause 6 of the Assam Accord reads: “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.”
The High Level Committee formed by the union government will be headed by retired IAS officer M P Bezbaruah. The Committee has nine other members, including retired IAS officer Subhash Das, former president of Asom Sahitya Sabha Dr Nagen Saikia, former editor of The Sentinel and former Editors Guild President Dhirendra Nath Bezbaruah, the Advocate General of Assam Ramesh Borpatragohain, one representative of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) among others, and the joint secretary of Home Ministry will be the member secretary of the committee.
The committee will examine the effectiveness of various measures taken since 1985 to implement the clause 6 of the Assam Accord. The Committee will hold discussions with various stakeholders including social organizations, legal and constitutional experts, eminent persons from the field of art, culture and literature, conservationists, economists, linguists and sociologists. The High Level Committee will also assess the appropriate level of reservation of seats in Assam Legislative Assembly and local bodies for the Assamese people. It will study and suggest measures needed for protection of Assamese and other indigenous languages of the state, and also for protection and preservation of various cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of people of Assam. The committee will also discuss the rights of indigenous people over natural resources.
While making these recommendations, the committee will have to look into and define several complex and contentious issues. The primary among them is the definition of ‘Assamese people’ mentioned in the clause. As per the Assam Accord and the accompanying amendment in the Citizenship Act, any person who entered the state before 25th March 1972 will be granted citizenship. This means a huge number of immigrants from Bangladesh are deemed to be legal citizens of India. But as the implementation of the clause 6 of Assam accord would involve reservations for indigenous people in the legislative assembly, local bodies and government jobs, protection of cultural, social, linguistic identity, and rights over natural resources, many people feel this cut-off date is unacceptable for implementation of this clause. Most people, including the AASU leadership, think that the NRC of 1951 should be taken as the basis for defining ‘Assamese people’ eligible for proposed safeguards under the clause.
Other than that, the committee will have to decide up to what extent various protections and safeguards will be provided to ‘Assamese people’ in political, economic, cultural, social and linguistic fields.
The High Level Committee will have to submit its report within six months from the date of notification. The State Government of Assam will provide the necessary administrative and logistic support to the Committee, and it will be serviced by the North East Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Few steps under clause 6 of the accord have been already implemented. These include the establishment of Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra in Guwahati, modernisation of Jyoti Chitraban Film Studio, financial assistance to Vaishnav Satras in the state, preservation and development of historical monuments etc.