About 4 lakh people affected in the BTAD riots
By our Staff Reporter
GUWAHATI, July 29: In the wake of the ongoing ethnic clashes in the Bodo Territorial Area District (BTAD), the problem of refugees and their rehabilitation threatens to raise its ugly head once again in Lower Assam.
Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon districts had been ravaged by ethnic clashes in 1993, 1996 and 1998. Around 11,647 families had been affected in these ethnic riots and they had taken shelter in refugee camps which had been set up in various places of these districts. These refugee families have not been completely rehabilitated by the State Government. To add on to the government’s woes, around 4 lakh people have taken shelter in refugee camps so far, as a result of the ongoing clashes in the BTAD areas. This is, of course, the official figure. There are many people who have fled their homes and the government does not have any record of such people.
Coming to the refugees who were rendered homeless after the riots of 1993, 1996 and 1998, the government gave a compensation of Rs 10,000 to each refugee family in the initial stage. However, these families demanded land to build their new homes. The State Government then formed a cabinet sub-committee, headed by the then State Revenue Minister Dr Bhumidhar Barman, to look into this issue.
Based on the recommendations of the cabinet sub-committee, the government then gave Rs 50,000 to each refugee family. As per government records, this compensation of Rs 50,000 was given to 6,546 families in Kokrajhar district, 2,086 families in Chirang district and 2,142 families in Bongaigaon district. The government spent Rs 60 crore in giving this compensation.
After this, the government stopped supplying ration to these refugee camps and as per government records, there were no refugee camps in Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon and Chirang districts. However, the families displaced by the riots continue to live the life of refugees.
During the winter session of the Assam Legislative Assembly in 2011, this issue was brought up for discussion. The Opposition said that for years these families had been living as refugees and on humanitarian grounds, the government should give land to each family. The government assured the Opposition that it would deal with the whole issue with a new approach.
In fact, the government had held a meeting with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) on this issue but despite this, there was no follow-up action and the problem of refugees and their rehabilitation was never resolved completely.
Now, with the sudden turn of events in the BTAD, this problem has resurfaced.
When this reporter got in touch with an official of the State Relief and Rehabilitation Department and asked him what steps the government had taken for the rehabilitation of the people rendered homeless in the ongoing riots in the BTAD, the official, on condition of anonymity, said, “The government will give compensation to those whose houses have been burnt down. The amount is yet to be ascertained. Of course, we have no data of those who fled their homes and hence I doubt they will get anything. But the 4 lakh people who have been affected by the riots will be given Gratuitous Relief (GR) and the government has already released money for this.”
The government had not completely rehabilitated the refugee families of the earlier ethnic riots. The number of refugee families in Lower Assam has definitely increased now with 4 lakh people being affected by the ongoing clashes in the BTAD. These clashes were waiting to happen and had the government picked on the signs early on, perhaps the number of displaced people might have been lesser than 4 lakh.