Centre agrees to pro-talks Ulfa demand on ST status for five Assam tribes

NEW DELHI: In keeping with a demand of the United Liberation Front of Asom, which is in the middle of peace talks with the Centre and the Assam government, the Union home ministry has agreed to grant Scheduled Tribe status to five communities with the greater objective of keeping illegally settled Bangladeshi immigrants at bay.

Although the tripartite agreement is yet to be formally inked, the decision to grant ST status to the five tribes-Moran, Motok, Chutia, Koch-Rajbongshi and Tai-Ahom-was finalised during a meeting between representatives of the Centre, the Assam government and the pro-talks Ulfa faction led by the outfit's chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa in Delhi recently.

The meeting, chaired by the then home secretary R K Singh, was attended by the Centre's interlocutor P C Haldar, Assam's additional director general of police (special branch) Khagen Sarma and Rajkhowa who led a team of 26 pro-peace Ulfa members.

Government sources involved in the peace talks, which began once the Rajkhowa-led faction signed the suspension of operation pact with the Centre on September 3, 2011, told TOI, "Agreeing to the demand for ST status for the five tribes will help save Assam."

According to sources, ST status will ensure land rights for the tribes, prevent alienation of land and there will be greater number of reserved seats for them in the Assam assembly.

The home ministry, the Assam government as well as the peace interlocutor agreed that according to ST status to the tribes would thwart a "take over" of territory in Assam by Bangladeshi immigrants (read Muslim immigrants) who have settled in the state. "It is a genuine problem in Assam where recently several people died in communal clashes between indigenous communities and suspected Bangladeshi immigrants," a senior official said on the condition of anonymity.

In line with a related demand of the Ulfa's pro-talks faction, the Centre is likely to take step to issue work permits for Bangladeshi immigrants settled in Assam and effect an amendment to the 1955 Citizenship Act so that children born to the immigrants are not accorded citizenship by birth.

The home ministry will now impress upon the ministry of tribal affairs the importance of the specific point agreed to before the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes issues a notification. Once the notification comes through, after the tripartite agreement is signed and a cabinet nod, upper Assam will become a tribal dominated area. Kokrajhar, Karbi-Anglong and North Cachar are three other districts with tribal dominance.

The Ulfa is constituted by men from Moran and Motok tribes, but the leadership is largely Ahom. The Morans and Motoks are ethnic communities based primarily in the upper Assam districts of Sibsagar, Tinsukia and Dibrugarh. There are about four lakh Moran-Motoks in the state.