(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Now that the tripartite peace accord has been signed, the Ulfa pro-talk
faction has finally made the ball rolling with the announcement of the disbanding of the Ulfa led by the Arabinda Rajkhowa faction, along with a decision to disarm themselves as per procedure by depositing the arms whatever they have in their possession as a process towards renouncing violence and vacate the designated camps in the final general meeting held on January 23, 2024, at Chomuwakhona of the Darrang district, where about 900 of the surrendered cadres have assembled. This will mark the end of their rebellion and their return to mainstream society. The government is looking forward to the completion of these tasks and then reporting them to the Government of India. The designated camps will be declared closed as soon as they move out of there. It is at this stage that the Ulfa cadres will raise the issue of their economic rehabilitation. Reportedly, as many as 700 such cadres are awaiting their rehabilitation, although some of them have already been engaged in some type of scheme or trading, but their numbers are very few. Thus, resolving the matter of their economic rehabilitation will not be an easy task.
An accord signed between three parties is always cumbersome when it comes to the process of implementing the provisions of the accord. In the present instance, the pro-talk faction and, for that matter, the people of Assam are on the receiving end, while both the central and state governments are the implementing authorities. In such cases, implementation of the accord points is always delayed due to the formalities required to be maintained between the central and state governments, especially on those matters that exclusively fall under the Central Government. While the Ulfa faction will be in a hurry to get the best out of the accord, the government, on the other hand, will attempt to maintain their normal pace of work, leaving no room for procedural lapses. This underlines the necessity of sensitizing the Ulfa faction well about the implementation procedure and how to go about monitoring the progress. Usually, for smooth and systematic implementation of an accord, the government sets up an authority to oversee the timely implementation of the provisions of the accord.
In the case of the Assam Accord, a department was set up for this purpose in the name of the Assam Accord Implementation Department, and now it also has a directorate too. In the case of the present peace accord, however, such a department may not be set up as the majority of the action points are already under implementation by several departments. Therefore, what is required at present is a coordinating department, and the government most likely will give this handle to the Assam Accord Department.
The government of India will perhaps be insisting on the constitution of a committee as incorporated in the accord to oversee the implementation process, for which it will ask the State Government for the names of certain personalities for inclusion in the committee. Undoubtedly, the sooner the committee is formed, the better it is, and equally important is to include in it persons of known sincerity and repute. Until such a committee is formed, the process of implementation will not take off.
As the Central Government has yet to make the accord public, the provisions laid down in the accord have been worked out from the various newspaper reports. Apart from the economic package as announced by the Centre costing about Rs 1 lakh crore, the details of which have not yet been made public, we shall discuss here the other administrative decisions that are part of the Accord. The first action point of the accord appears to be a matter related to the Election Commission concerning the delimitation of the constituencies, which has already been declared as realized. Therefore, it is good that the implementation has started on a positive note. There is another point concerning the Election Commission, which requires the Commission to maintain the utmost caution while preparing voters’ lists so that foreigners’ names are not included in the lists. Of the remaining action points, as many as six are concerning the Revenue and Disaster Management Department. The first revenue action point is that the data about land records shall be digitised. This is not a new agenda but an ongoing process. The Department has so far digitised two sets of text land records, namely Chitha and Jamabandi (records of rights). There are also other land records, such as Khatians concerning the land details of the agricultural tenants and Chitha and Jamabandis pertaining to tea periodic leases, etc., which are separately to be digitised. Apart from these, there are also graphic records such as the cadastral map of the villages, which are yet to be fully digitised and put to use. Digitising the graphic records and integrating them into the text records is undoubtedly a challenging task. Now that the task of digitization has been incorporated into the accord, its completion will have to be reached in a time-bound manner. Secondly, the agricultural lands of the state are proposed to be protected from wanton conversion to non-agricultural use. This is indeed the basic theme of the Land Records Department. Large-scale conversion of lands from agricultural use to non-agricultural use has been taking place both at the behest of the government and individual land owners. This cannot be stopped as land is required for raising public utility services like roads and embankments, hospitals, schools, telephone and electricity offices, etc. On the other hand, individuals convert land to use it either for homestead purposes or commercial purposes. The government has already enacted legislation, namely the Assam Agricultural Land (Regulation of Reclassification and Transfer for Non-Agricultural Purposes) Act 2015. The Act prohibits the transfer of agricultural land to non-agriculturists without the prior permission of the Deputy Commissioner.
Thirdly, as a part of the accord, the government proposes to take steps to prevent encroachment on government and forest lands of the state. For the prevention of encroachment and removal of encroachment from government lands, the Deputy Commissioner of a district (now district Commissioner) is empowered under Assam Land and Revenue Regulation 1886 (ALRR). The district administration performs this task through their circle officers. Similarly, for forest land, the forest authority is empowered to remove the encroachment. This subject is also entrusted to Panchayati Raj institutions, which are supposed to perform vigilance functions and report to the DC about such encroachments.
Fourthly, there is a proposal for enacting laws to confer ownership rights on landowners. So far, the matter has been dealt with under the provisions laid down in the ALRR. The provision appears to be adequate, and therefore it may not be necessary to enact a new law, but depending on the requirements that are in the mind of the government, some amendments to the provisions may be necessary.
Fifthly, there is also the proposal to set up land banks in all the districts, depositing the lands freed from encroachers, so that these free lands can be distributed among the landless indigenous peoples. The government has already issued the necessary guidelines for setting up land banks in every district.
The action points, namely constituting committees to study the matter of sub-categorizing OBC and MOBC communities for the purpose of reservation of seats in educational institutions and government jobs and also for reservation of seats in Panchayati Raj institutions and urban local institutions, are the matters of the Personnel Department, Panchayat and Rural Development Department, and Urban Development Department. The government has already allocated seats separately to the OBCs and MOBCs in higher educational institutions.
Among other actionable points, there is also the issue of the National Registrar of Citizens (NRC) of Assam. The action proposed is to implement the Supreme Court’s order in the matter of verification of entries as has been contemplated by the government. The people of Assam have been looking forward to an early solution to the problem of erroneous entries and left-out entries in the NRC. However, as the NRC is a matter guided by the Supreme Court, it would be a matter to be reckoned how the apex Court reacts about its inclusion in the Accord.