EDITORIAL

This menace called ‘bandhs’

Bandhs

Assam is in the grip of a bandhs again. A 48-hour bandh called by some organisations a couple of days ago not only disrupted lives of the common people across the state, but also caused immense loss to the government. The state government had made an estimate in 2014 and found that a number of bandhs called by various organisations during that year had led to a loss of over Rs 2943 crores to Assam. Similarly, Assam had suffered a loss of over Rs 1028 crore to the State Domestic Produce during 2017 because of these bandhs.

According to the state government, as many as 184 blockades took place on National Highways as part of various agitation programmes by different groups across the state during 2017. To be more precise, in 2017, various organisations called for 18 local bandhs, 42 district bandhs, 17 Assam bandhs and four Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) bandhs.
Looking back to 2014, one finds that while different organizations had called a total of 68 state-wide bandhs during the year in Assam, there were as many as nine part-bandhs (like central Assam bandh, upper Assam bandh, etc), 32 district bandhs and 21 local area or town bandhs too. The loss was calculated on the basis of GSDP at current prices of 2014-15. Worked out by the state planning and development department, the statistics also revealed that Kokrajhar remained the worst sufferer among the 27 districts in terms of economic loss. While Kokrajhar incurred a loss of about Rs 133.68 crore due to 48 bandhs, Sonitpur came second with a loss of Rs 135 crore due to bandhs totaling 35 days. Other districts that suffered major loss due to such bandhs include Kamrup (Rs 103 crore), Kamrup Metro – including Guwahati city (Rs 73 crore), Tinsukia (Rs 82 crore) , and Barpeta (Rs 81 crore). Hailakandi district had the least number of bandhs (only three days) in 2014, with the loss working out to about Rs 4 crore.

What is a matter of shame and dismay is that a bandh in Assam also causes irreparable loss to the neighbouring states of the Northeastern region. Arunachal Pradesh for instance had suffered a loss of about Rs 263 crores due to bandhs in Assam and its own districts during 2014-15. Arunachal Pradesh had suffered the highest loss (Rs 506 crore) during 2012-13 due to such bandhs, while the total loss between 2011-12 and 2014-15 stood at over Rs 1015 crore. Likewise, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripuraand the neighbouring Himalayan country of Bhutan too have been suffering due to bandhs and blockades called by various groups and organisations in Assam from time to time.

What is a matter of grave concern for law-abiding citizens and those concerned about the development of the state is that bandhs have been called by various groups despite a clear verdict from the Gauhati High Court as well as the Supreme Court that bandhs are illegal, especially because they violate the basic rights of the mass people of this country.
The Gauhati High Court had way back in Januray 2010 declared bandhs illegal in Assam and Meghalaya. While a division bench of the Gauhati High Court had then also asked the Assam Government to take steps for preventing infringement of fundamental rights of the citizens on account of bandhs, no step has been taken so far. A Bill intended at declaring bandhs as unlawful and providing for penal action against those individuals and organisations which call bandhs and blockades and usurp the rights of the common people, however has been pending enactment in Assam for the past couple of years for reasons best known to the government.

Meghalaya however has set an example – and a highly laudable one – by putting an end to bandhs and blockades in the state by taking positive and harsh action against the perpetrators of violation of rights of the common people. The Meghalaya government, in response to the High Court’s orders, has been imposing heavy penalty on organisations and their leaders in person for disrupting normal life, causing damage to lives and property and causing loss to the government. Simultaneously, the Shillong High Court has also debarred the media from giving publicity to bandhs. The combined result of the two actions is that there has been practically no bandh or blockade in Meghalaya in the past few years. The biggest beneficiary is the common man who now can lead a peaceful life where his or her life is not disrupted, vehicles not stoned, people not thrashed up by the self-styled patriots, and children do not lose valuable educational working days.

Law-abiding citizens in Assam need to raise their voices against bandhs. People must come out in large numbers to defy bandhs and blockades called by a handful of people. More importantly, right-thinking, law-abiding and peace-loving people should start writing letters to the hon’ble Gauhati High Court, the Governor, the chief minister and if required to the Chief Justice of India about how the Government of Assam has committed a sort of contempt of court by sitting idle despite the Court’s clear orders to take action against bandhs.