Friday, January 18, 2008

Border fencing: Is Aizawl ready to wipe Chakmas’ tears?

By- Paritosh Chakma

Since 13 January 2008, the Chakmas have been staging peaceful and democratic protests at remote Marpara village under Lunglei district of Mizoram (India) demanding immediate suspension of the ongoing India-Bangladesh border fencing because of the failure of the Lunglei district administration to disburse compensation to the affected families so far. The protests have the support of the Young Chakma Association, Mizoram Chakma Students’ Union, Village Councils and elders. On 18 January 2008, these protests were temporarily suspended up to 31 January 2008 following “written assurances” from the officials of the National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC), the company which is implementing the fencing works in Marpara sector, who met the protestors at Marpara.

I. No compensation, only acquisition

The Chakmas have accused the Lunglei district administration of sheer discrimination and neglect by refusing to release any compensation although the necessary verification of the affected villages was completed one year ago. The Zoramthanga government had promised fair treatment to all oustees of the border fencing in the award of compensation and rehabilitation. Both state government of Mizoram and the Central government had also assured the would-be displaced persons of proper rehabilitation.

Yet, the discrimination and neglect of the villagers in Lunglei district is crystal clear given the fact that the fellow affected Chakmas in other districts have already been given the first installment of compensation and they are about to get their second installment from their respective district authorities who have been entrusted to look into the compensation and rehabilitation of the oustees.

In clear deviation from the stated principle of the State government, “No compensation, Only acquisition” seems to be the mantra of the district authorities of Lunglei.

In India, the State has the power to forcibly acquire any land of any individual in any part of the country in the name of “public purpose” or “emergency” under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 which has also been upheld in the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy of 2007. But the concerned officials have gone a step ahead by not providing compensation to the affected families in Lunglei district.

II. Extent of displacement and its consequences

The government of India has been erecting fencing along its 4096.7 km-long border with Bangladesh running through five Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram in order to stop infiltration, smuggling and other alleged anti-India activities from across the border. Mizoram has a 318 km-long international border with Bangladesh.

The border fencing has hit hard the already poverty-stricken Chakma tribals. A house to house survey conducted by Indo-Bangladesh Border Fencing Affected Families Resettlement Demand Committee (IBBFARDCOM) headed by former minister Mr Nirupam Chakma found that the fencing will displace a total of 5,790 Chakma tribal families consisting of 35,438 persons from 49 villages.

Apart from loss of their immovable houses and properties, the villagers will lose already developed wet rice cultivation lands, horticulture gardens, gardens for growing vegetables and other cash crops, tree plantations of high commercial values like teak etc, community/ government assets like schools, health sub-centres, community halls, market places, places of worship, play grounds, cemetery/ grave yards, water ponds, water supply, and other government/ council office buildings, etc. The consequences of the mass displacement will be disastrous unless the government take concrete steps to provide all the facilities, including clean water supply, roads as the rivers will fall outside the fencing, markets, schools and primary health centres among others.

The IBBFARDCOM has been pressing for “full and proper” rehabilitation of all the oustees without any discrimination by New Delhi and Aizawl.

To mitigate the sufferings of the Chakmas, not only New Delhi and Aizawl must act in cooperation but the district level officials must also discharge their duty properly and timely.

The condition of the Chakmas has been aggravated by the denial of timely compensation (in Lunglei district) in the backdrop of the Mautam (bamboo famine) which has been raging on in Mizoram resulting in acute shortage of food in some villages. It has been reported that the Chakmas in some villages in western Mizoram have already been living on (eatable) potatoes found in the jungles or are taking only one meal a day to save more food for the coming days. The price of rice in the market has soared up to Rs 20 per kg which is not affordable to the poor.

III. Chief Minister must intervene

The protesting Chakmas have been given assurance of compensation by the end of this month. The Chakmas can only keep their fingers crossed.

In the event of the failure to disburse compensation by the deadline of 31 January 2008, Chief Minister Mr Zoramthanga must himself intervene to take immediate appropriate steps to fulfill the demands of the aggrieved Chakmas and establish accountability by taking action against the guilty officials. Mr Zoramtahnga must also order an investigation as to why the compensation in Lunglei district has been delayed. But the million dollar question is: Is Aizawl ready to wipe Chakmas’ tears?

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