The pro-talks faction of ULFA is reported to have sought 702 bighas of land from the Assam government to set up projects in the public-private partnership (PPP) mode to create employment opportunities for nearly 1,500 of its cadres living in seven desigted camps. The plots of land identified by the ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia in a memorandum on the subject submitted to Assam Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal are mainly in Kathalguri, Dibrugarh (450 bighas), Chamuapara, Mangaldoi (62 bighas) and Kothiatoli, gaon (130 bighas). The land has been demanded mainly to start agricultural farms, piggeries and for rearing goats. Anup Chetia has also demanded that the stipends being paid to the ULFA cadres in the desigted camps be raised from Rs 3,000 to Rs 10,000 per month. His argument in support of the demand to raise the stipend is that most of the ULFA cadres are now above the age of 40 and are therefore ineligible to apply for government jobs. As such, their stipends should be enhanced until they have acquired job skills for productive work.
Apart from the fact that ULFA demand of 702 bighas of land for about 1,500 persons works out to almost a bigha of land for every two persons, it is the utter irratiolity of the preposterous demand that needs to be considered. What is the principle involved? What is the ratiole involved? Is it that people who have been militants and have later given up arms ought to be treated as an exclusive lot of citizens entitled to special privileges? Let us consider the teeming lot of young people who have taken to studies seriously, passed their examitions regularly and never taken up arms against the State. Should they be regarded as less qualified and less deserving of government aid and for the use of government land for PPP projects than people who have taken up arms against their State and government? In a land where the high rate of unemployment among the educated youth is a major socio-economic problem, how can the government be expected to ignore the fair demands of law-abiding and qualified youths and squander government land on former militants who have turned militancy and terrorism into an industry to extort both money and jobs? There can be no clearer message that the government of the State can be browbeaten into submissive surrender to the demands of militant outfits if it can even think of handing over government land to former militants just for the asking. There is only one answer that the State government can make to Anup Chetia’s demand for 702 bighas of government land for PPP projects: a very firm “No”. There have been instances of ill conceived responses of our government to irratiol demands made by militant groups in the past as well. In 1992, the then Chief Minister of Assam, Hiteswar Saikia had committed the blunder of granting amnesty to ULFA cadres who surrendered with their arms. Since they did not surrender with all their arms, Hiteswar Saikia succeeded only in creating another opportunist militant outfit that goes by the me of SULFA and continues to intimidate people with unlicensed arms still at its disposal. The SULFA had completely distorted normal lifestyles in Assam. We are anxious to ensure that Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal does not fall into similar traps by handing over 702 bighas of precious government land to former cadres of an outfit that has learnt little more that squeezing triggers or threatening to do so. He will remain answerable to the people of Assam if he fritters away the precious land of the State on PPP schemes like the ones proposed by the ULFA. He will also be held answerable to the people of Assam for submitting to the arm-twisting of an outfit like ULFA that is too myopic to see anything beyond its discredited socio-political goals.