Thursday, February 7, 2008

Of fencing and injustice

By: Paritosh Chakma

The government of India has been constructing fencing along the 318-km long stretch of Mizoram-Bangladesh border to contain any anti-India activities from the other side of the porous borders. Out of the 318 kms border from Marpara to Borapansuri which is being fenced, National Building Construction Corporation Ltd. (NBCC) has been given the major share of 147 kms while Border Roads Organization (BRO) is fencing 70 kms, Engineering Projects India Limited (EPIL) 55 kms and National Projects Construction Corporation Ltd (NPCC) 46 kms. The border fencing project will effectively uproot not less than 5,790 Chakma tribal families consisting of 35,438 persons from 49 villages.

Grave injustice is being done to the affected families who belong to Chakma tribe. First, the four implementing agencies began to acquire the lands of the villagers by breaking all rules. They even did not think it necessary to follow the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs while acquiring the lands. In its various communications to the four implementing agencies, the Ministry of Home Affairs clearly stated that the four construction companies “shall be responsible for liaisoning with the State Government/ local authorities for acquisition of land and getting forest/ environment clearance for carrying out the fencing & related works”, and that they “shall finalize the alignment of the fencing in consultation with BSF (Border Security Forces) & DM (District Magistrate) of the area where the fencing is proposed”. But the four construction companies had started acquiring lands and erecting the fencing in their respective portions without any consultation with the tribal inhabitants or the local authorities, including the DM and the BSF.

Now, the National Building Construction Corporation Ltd (NBCC) which is fencing the largest portion has refused to pay any compensation to the affected families in Lunglei district although the verification of the beneficiaries have been completed nearly one year ago.

Since 13 January 2008, the Chakmas have been peacefully protesting at Marpara village in Lunglei district demanding compensation. So far, two “written agreements” have been signed between the protestors and the NBCC officials at Marpara. The first was signed by S K Pandit, Deputy Project Manager of NBCC, Mizoram sector, on 18 January 2008 who agreed to release compensation by the end of January 2008. But the promise was not kept. When the Chakmas restarted their protest, Mr Arun Kumar from the NBCC reached another agreement on 3 February 2008 to thwart the protest. This time, the NBCC official promised to release compensation by 28 February 2008 in front of the Officer-In-Charge of Marpara Police Station and the officials from the local BSF camp.

Surprisingly, there is no accountability mechanism to fix responsibility. The officials of NBCC who met the Chakma protestors failed to provide any valid explanations as to why there has been inordinate delay in releasing the compensation while three other construction companies engaged in fencing in Mizoram namely, Engineering Projects India Limited, National Projects Construction Corporation Ltd. and Border Roads Organization have already released some compensation in their respective portions.

On 1 February 2008, Home Minister of Mizoram, Mr Tawnluia visited Marpara and met the border fencing protestors. But he too assured no help. He only provided moral support saying that protestors had the “genuine” reasons to protest.

Now it seems that the would-be-displaced Chakmas of Lunglei district have been forsaken both by the Central government and the state government of Mizoram. They have now been forgotten after they had given away their lands and properties in the interest of the country’s security. It is extremely unfortunate that they are now being asked to fend for themselves.

It is equally pathetic that the government of Mizoram has been acting as a mute spectator to the crisis. Instead, the Zoramthanga government must take a pro-active role and intervene to provide justice to the already beleaguered Chakma victims of border fencing. The NBCC headquarters which swears by its “zero tolerance for corruption” policy must immediately order an investigation for the inordinate delay in the disbursement of relief by the NBCC, Mizoram sector to the India-Bangladesh border fencing affected families in Lunglei district.

For the simple Chakma tribals it is hard to believe that they will have to see this day even after they have willingly gave away their lands for the interest of the country. However, if the demands are not met, there is every possibility that the patients of the protestors could wane due to the delay and the indifferent attitude of the officials. The Mizoram government through its gazette notification issued on 27th October 2006 (Issue No. 272) under the Land Acquisition Act had warned that “All persons interested in the said land [318 km land from Marpara to Borapansuri] are hereby warned not to obstruct or interfere with any Surveyor or other persons employed upon the said land for the purpose of the said acquisition” (Clause 3 of the notification). The ongoing protests at Marpara may well be deemed as “obstruction” or “inference” while the genuine grievances of the victims are being ignored. If that so happens and the government takes action against the peaceful protestors, it will be a black day for the people of Mizoram as a whole, as it will be a symbolic mark that injustice rules the roost in the state and finds acceptance within the cabinet.

In the meantime, the NBCC can sit at ease and forget the Chakma protestors up to the end of this month. However, it must not take for granted that the Chakmas can be fooled for yet another round by lobbing another promise which won’t be kept.

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