By Sujit Chakraborty
Agartala/Aizawl : Despite Supreme Court directions and the Union Home Ministry’s initiative, the repatriation of tribal refugees from Tripura to Mizoram hangs in balance even after two decades.
The Mizoram government and refugee leaders put new conditions in a recent four-party meeting in New Delhi to resettle the tribals in the state after the repatriation.
About 31,300 Reang tribals, who locally call themselves “Bru”, have been living in seven makeshift camps in North Tripura’s Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-divisions adjoining Mizoram since October 1997 after they fled their homes in western Mizoram following ethnic troubles in the state.
“We are ready to return to our homes in Mizoram, but the state government is reluctant to meet our basic demands like allotment of lands for cultivation,” refugee leader Bruno Msha told IANS.
“In the November 24 meeting in New Delhi, we categorically reiterated our demand to allot five hectares of land to each refugee family to cultivate after the repatriation. The Mizoram officials summarily rejected this basic demand. If we do not have land how would we survive?” he asked.
The third high-level meeting held on November 24 at the Union Home Ministry in New Delhi discussed in depth the repatriation of the tribal refugees.
The ministry’s Special Secretary, (Internal Security), Mahesh Kumar Singla, presided over the meeting where senior officials from the Tripura and Mizoram governments and refugee and other tribal leaders were present.
A 30-member team of Mizoram government officials last month conducted a survey in the refugee camps to identify the bona fide citizens of Mizoram among the refugees.
A Tripura Relief Department official said that in the New Delhi meeting, it was decided to issue birth certificates by the Tripura government to those children born in the relief camps during the past 19 years.
“We have received 700 applications from the refugees for birth certificates for the children. We have already started the process and within 15 days would be able to issue the certificates,” north Tripura District Magistrate and Collector Sandeep Namdeo Mahatme told IANS on the phone.
“Most of the tribal refugees are willing to go to their homes in Mizoram. Some people are creating barriers in the repatriation process to serve their own interests.”
The District Magistrate said Singla, along with other ministry officials, would visit the refugee camps this week to persuade the residents to return to Mizoram.
“We are confident that the refugees would go back to their homes from January as the Mizoram government is taking the initiative to take them back,” Mahatme said.
Tripura Relief Department officials said that the Supreme Court last year had asked the Union Home Ministry and the Mizoram and Tripura governments to jointly work for the return of the tribal refugees to their homes in Mizoram.
The Home Ministry undertook serious efforts after the Supreme Court’s directive.
Despite several initiatives by the Mizoram government to bring the refugees back, they have been reluctant to do so unless their demands for food and security are met.
The refugees’ apex body, the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), has been insisting that three teams of their organisations be allowed to visit three Mizoram districts — Mamit, Lunglei and Kolasib — to study the situation where they would be rehabilitated.
“The MBDPF has submitted a 14-point demand to the MHA. The demands include allotment of five hectares of land to each tribal family, undertaking a special development plan for the backward tribals, provide adequate security to the repatriated refugees, one government job to each refugee family and creation of scope for livelihood in Mizoram,” MBDPF general secretary Bruno Msha said.
The refugee leader said the Home Ministry agreed to give each refugee family housing assistance of Rs 38,500, cash assistance of Rs 41,500, free rations for two years, blankets and utensils, while Mizoram would reimburse their transportation cost.
Mizoram Home Minister R. Lalzirliana said in Aizawl that the state government would not concede the demands of the MBDPF as a pre-condition of the refugees’ repatriation.
“It would also be impossible for the state government to allot five hectares of land to each repatriated tribal family. The repatriated families also would have to wait for allocation of land for construction of houses and for farming in accordance with the guidelines of their respective village councils,” the minister said.
Meanwhile, the Tripura government has been asking the Union and Mizoram governments to repatriate the refugees at the earliest as serious socio-economic and law-and-order problems have cropped up in the state.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, accompanied by his deputy, Kiren Rijiju, had visited the refugee camps in North Tripura in February last year and urged the Mizoram government and the refugees to end the stalemate.