Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Friday said that peace talks with banned militant group United Liberation Front of Assam (Independent) could take place if it was prepared to discuss anything but its demand for sovereignty, reported PTI.
“ULFA(I) chief Paresh Barua insists that he will not discuss anything beyond sovereignty but I have taken an oath to protect sovereignty,” Sarma said. “These two are irreconcilable.”
Sarma said that many people were working with the ULFA(I) chief to convince him to discuss something substantial without insisting on sovereignty. “We take oath that it is our duty to protect our sovereignty and not cede an inch of our land,” the chief minister said. “For him [Barua] also, there is a compulsion. So there is a need to arrive at a certain definition which can address the issues of both [the parties] concerned.”
Soon after taking oath as the chief minister of Assam in May, Sarma had said that his government would be open to talks with the banned militant group. However, the peace talks are yet to start.
“Over the past five years [under the BJP government], people saw a process of peace and development in Assam,” Sarma had said in May. “Peace returned to Bodo areas and Karbi Anglong. Our efforts now will be to bring the remaining rebel groups to the talks table for the establishment of permanent peace in the state.”
When asked about the current status of the National Register of Citizens, Sarma said that the state coordinator has filed a plea before the Supreme Court seeking re-verification and a re-look at the document, according to PTI.
The NRC is a register meant to document all legal citizens of India. More than 19 lakh people were left out of the final list of the Assam NRC that was published on August 31, 2019. The number of people left out comprised around 6% of Assam’s entire population. Some of those left out have appealed against their exclusion in the foreigners’ tribunals. As many as 3.3 crore people had applied for the exercise.
“It is now up to the court to hear the petition,” he said. “Maybe it has been delayed due to the prevailing Covid-19 situation but as the petition has been filed, it will definitely come up for hearing.”
In the plea filed in May, Assam NRC coordinator Hitesh Dev Sharma had said that around 50,000 people were found eligible for being included in the NRC but their names were not in the register. He said that the figure might increase if a detailed re-verification was done.
“For a flawless complete NRC, names of these persons have to be included in NRC failing which NRC will lose its acceptability,” Sharma said in the application.
On ST status
The chief minister said that the matter of communities demanding Scheduled Tribe status was complex. “The moment a community is granted tribal status, other tribal communities start opposing it,” he said, according to PTI. “I do not want a clash between them. We have to address these issues tactfully and not in a hurried manner.”
Six communities in Assam – Motok, Moran, Chutiyas, Tai Ahom, Koch-Rajbongshis and the tea tribes – have been demanding Scheduled Tribe status. Some of these communities have been categorised as Other Backward Classes.
Former Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had formed a Group of Ministers, led by Sarma, to prepare a report on the matter.
On coal mining in Tinsukia
When asked about coal mining in Tinsukia district, the chief minister said that it was important to protect the fragile biodiversity in the region but added that many also depend on mining for their livelihoods, PTI reported. The mining in the district has led to protests by environmentalists.
“Mining in the area was going on till last year from the early 1900s and since many livelihoods are dependent on it, we are of the view that wherever it is possible, mining activities may continue without disturbing the biodiversity of the area,” he added.