GUWAHATI: Will the 13-member high-level panel on the key Clause 6 of the Assam Accord provide a consensus definition on the Assamese people? This has been the key poser among conscious circles. This point will hold significance as the committee re-constituted with new members by the Centre on July 15, will convene its first meeting in New Delhi on July 24. The panel has been given six months’ time from the date of notification to offer its suggestions on Assam Accord’s vital Clause 6 which states, “Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people”. However, there is no clear mention of who are the Assamese people in the terms of reference for the panel.
Meanwhile, the government has already issued the letters as per the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) notification regarding the formation of the high-level committee to the members concerned. The panel is headed by Justice Biplab Kumar Sarma, former judge of Gauhati High Court as chairman. The MHA Joint Secretary is the member secretary of the committee.
Though successive State governments had tried to come up with definitions on “the Assamese people” yet none of the efforts bore fruits owing to differences and contradictory stands on the respective definitions among the ethnic groups and various organisations, including the Axam Xahitya Xabha (AXX), on this score. This has been the situation since 1985 when the Assam Accord was signed.
The terms and references for the high-level panel include the following: While examining the effectiveness of actions taken since 1985 to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, the Committee will hold discussions with various stakeholders including social organizations, legal and constitutional experts, eminent persons from the fields of art, culture and literature, conservationists, economists, linguists and sociologists.
The Committee will also assess the appropriate level of reservation of seats in Assam Legislative Assembly and local bodies for the Assamese people. It will also suggest measures to be taken to protect Assamese and other indigenous languages of Assam.
The Committee will recommend the appropriate level of reservations in employment under the Government of Assam for the Assamese people. It can suggest any other measures as may be necessary to protect, preserve and promote cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.
Against this backdrop, it appears that a clear-cut consensus definition has to be first found on “the Assamese people”, while suggesting means for ensuring their protection as mentioned in the terms and reference of the high-level Central government re-constituted committee.