On 25 February, a high-level committee formed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), had submitted its recommendations for implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, to Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, so that it could be handed over to Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
This confidential report was made public on Tuesday (11 August), by the All Assam Students Union (AASU). According to PTI, AASU said that the public has the right to know of the contents of the report on Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, a key provision that has been contentious for decades as it debates over who can be defined as '"Assamese people".
This report on Clause 6 defines "Assamese people" as all persons residing in the territory of Assam on or before 1 January, 1951, and their descendants. It has selected 1951 as being selected as a cut-off year, has left minority groups worried.
The AASU and another committee member Nilay Dutta, who is the advocate general of Arunachal Pradesh, addressed a press conference, saying that they were releasing it only because the "government is just sitting idle".
"It has been more than five months since we submitted the report but there is simply no action from the government. People are asking us daily what happened to it. We have finally decided to release it as the people have the right to know," AASU chief advisor Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharya said.
So what is Clause 6 of the Assam Accord?
As per Clause 6, Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the culture, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.
The bone of contention since the signing of the pact on 13 August, 1985 has been the definition of Assamese people, which the committee tried to fix as the tribal, indigenous and all other Indian citizens residing within the territory of Assam as per the First Schedule of the Constitution on or before 1 January, 1951 along with their descendants.
The signing of the accord in 1985 ended a six-year-long, violent anti-immigrant movement, sparked by anxiety by the migration into Assam from Bangladesh in the aftermath of the Bangladesh War of 1971.
According to Scroll.in, using the war as the cut-off, the Accord defined anyone who came before midnight on 24 March, 1971 as an Indian citizen in Assam. But the accord did not define who falls under the ambit of "Assamese people".
On 25 February, the high-level committee on the implementation of Clause 6, headed by Justice (Retired) BK Sharma, had submitted the report to Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal for handing it over to Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
The chairman of the committee had submitted the report to the chief minister in the presence of the entire state cabinet, top government officials, and journalists.
So what does this confidential report say?
The 'confidential' report released by ASSU sought to implement the Assam Accord in letter and spirit and has also asked the government for prompt measures to seal the India-Bangladesh border. It also suggested reservation of 80-100 percent in Parliament seats from the state, while recommended creation of an Upper House in Assam.
Who is defined as 'Assamese'?
According to The Print, AASU president Dipanka Kumar Nath during the press conference said that the committee had recommended five specific categories to define the 'Assamese' keeping in mind the implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord.
These categories were " Assamese communities residing in the territory of Assam on or before 1 January, 1951, any indigenous tribal community residing in the territory of Assam on or before 1 January, 1951, any other indigenous community residing in the territory of Assam on or before 1 January, 1951, all other citizens of India residing in the territory of Assam on or before 1 January, 1951 and descendants of the above categories.
Reservation in Parliament
It also suggested reservation of 80-100 percent in Parliament seats from Assam should be reserved for the "Assamese people" as defined above. The report further suggested a similar percentage of posts in the Central government, Central public sector units, and private sector companies operating in Assam should be reserved for the "Assamese people".
Creation of an Upper House in Assam
The report has also suggested the creation of an Upper House of the Assam legislature, in which all seats would be reserved for "Assamese people". "The composition of the House shall be from among the SC [Scheduled Castes], ST [Scheduled Tribes] and the tribes/communities of the State," the report said.
Assamese language to remain official language in state
The high-level committee in its report has also said that the Assamese language should continue to be the official language of the state with appropriate provisions for use of local languages in Barak Valley, Hill Districts and the BTAD (Bodoland Territorial Area Districts).
The committee also suggested a mandatory provision of an Assamese language paper for recruitment in state government services with alternatives for Barak Valley districts, BTAD and Hills Districts.
The committee in its report recommended that land rights in Assam be confined to those defined as the "Assamese". "Unless the land rights of the "Assamese People" are protected along with the political rights, it will be a futile exercise to adopt measures for full implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord in its true spirit," it said.
'Not acceptable for govt to neglect report'
"We do not know where the report is. Is it in the chief minister's almirah or somewhere? Has it been sent to Delhi? It is not acceptable to neglect the report this way," Bhattacharya said during the press conference on Tuesday.
When asked if there will be any legal implication for making the report public, senior advocate Dutta said it will not have any repercussions.
According to The Telegraph, the ASSU also noted that the BJP's state unit president Ranjeet Kumar Dass's recent observation that several recommendations in the report would be difficult to implement had forced their hands.
"It is clear that the report is out in some quarters. Let there be debate and discussion on what it is not implementable," AASU general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi said.
Unfortunate that report was made public, says CM
Soon after the report was made public, Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal termed it as "unfortunate" that the AASU made the report public.
Assuring that the state government is committed to implementing the said provision of the 1985 agreement, Sonowal in a statement said, the BJP-led government will not do anything that will harm the interests of the people.
The Union Home Ministry had in January last year formed the committee headed by retired Union Secretary P Bezbaruah, but six of the nine members declined to be part of it, following which the panel was reconstituted on 16 July, 2019 with 14 members and Justice Sharma as its chairman.
With inputs from agencies