Friday, February 27, 2009

The border burden


By – Paritosh Chakma

According to 2001 Census, there are 71,283 Chakmas in Mizoram and they are the second largest ethnic tribe in the state, next to the Mizos who form 77% of the state’s tribal population. Out of 71,283 Chakmas, as many as 35,438 – that is 49.7% - from 49 villages will soon be evicted from their homes due to the ongoing India-Bangladesh border fencing.

When about 50% of a particular community – that too a minority tribal community – is facing imminent displacement that would forever change their lives, shouldn’t the state government and the Central government act with the alacrity the magnitude of the problem requires? But alas, the lethargy and apathy of the state government of Mizoram is so severe that it has practically done precious little to assure the victims of a safe future in their new homes. At best the response of the Mizoram government has been insensitively pathetic. In its reply to a complaint filed by Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network (AITPN), a non governmental organization, to the National Human Rights Commission alleging denial of adequate compensation to the fencing victims, the state government of Mizoram stated that it did not consider the out-fenced victims as “displaced” because “the Fencing Line is not the boundary of Indo-Bangia Border”. The state government further stated, “It is also informed to the villagers that their shifting from outside to the inner side of the fencing will depends upon the will of the villagers. There is no compulsion to have their residence shifted to the inner side of the Fencing Line.” Does it mean that the victims who have lost their land and homes to pave way for the fence won’t be resettled and rehabilitated but left to fend for themselves? Indeed, if that happens, the government will live up to the trademark of the country that is known for not providing sufficient compensation and rehabilitation to the displaced victims – be it in the case of Narmada river dams or other dams or industrial plants across the country, who had to sacrifice their happiness for nation’s sake.

In India the State can acquire any land by exercising its “eminent domain” in the name of national interest under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. Hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, particularly tribals and dalits, have not been properly rehabilitated. In case of Mizoram-Bangladesh border fencing, no social impact assessment or environmental impact assessment has been undertaken and hence the far-reaching consequences (environmental, social, economic and cultural) of the victims have been ignored. The raw deal of the state government of Mizoram towards the fencing victims must also be seen from the angle that almost all the fencing victims belong to minority Chakma community.

Certainly, the fencing affected victims deserve better deal from the government so that they are able to live better lives aftermath of the displacement. They have gave away their ancestral land and homes without any opposition, as witnessed in various parts of the country associated with fears of displacement, for the interest of the nation as the Indo-Bangladesh fencing is meant to protect the nation from anti-national activities and illegal infiltrations from across the border. The Chakmas are aware their lives will change forever along with the changed landscape. Now, their children and grandchildren will grow up seeing a man-made border fencing which they will painfully learn it wasn’t there before.

The negative outburst of the Mizoram government has direct serious implications for the 50% of the total Chakma community population in the state who will be displaced.

First, if the out-fenced Chakmas are allowed to remain “outside the fencing line”, it will be disastrous for their wellbeing and security as they would be left totally on the mercy of the Bangladeshis, Bangladesh security forces and Bangladesh-based terrorist elements. The contention of government of Mizoram that “In the case like the village of Bindasora that the fencing was constructed for National Security reason and not to mean for the boundary of the Indo-Bangia Border and that there was no objection of dwelling outside the Fencing Line” is absolutely flawed and condemnable. In April 2008, the then Chief Secretary of Mizoram, Haukhum Hauzel while expressing security concerns stated that in Bindasora village, about 80 families fell outside the fence and the villagers were prevented by the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) from getting sand from the river which used to be their main source of income. I fail to understand as to why the out-fenced villagers should be allowed – for god’s sake - to remain on the other side of the fence which has been constructed for “national security reason” in the first place. Don’t the out-fenced citizens of India need security? After all, for whom is this “national security” that the India-Bangladesh fencing seeks to provide?

Second, the out-fenced Chakmas will face enormous problems if they are allowed – which is understood that in absence of rehabilitation they will be forced to remain where they are – to remain on the other side of the fence. Similar past examples should serve as eye opener for both the planners and the victims. As of December 2002, about 1,570 persons living in eight villages of Jarapata, Kurikhala, Latukandi, Badna, Kachubari, Laphasail, Deotoli and Latubankar under Karimganj district of Assam, who too were “out-fenced” by the India-Bangladesh border fencing, faced immeasurable hardships and harassment. These people were allowed entry into their “own country” through specific gates manned by the Border Security Force (BSF) personnel who kept a register of the villagers. But the gates remained closed from 6 pm to 6 am, thereby forcing them to live at the mercy of Bangladeshi nationals for 12 hours a day. Villagers who had crossed the gates must return to their homes before 6 pm or else they would be stranded for the entire night. If anyone fell seriously sick in the middle of the night, they had to depend on the mercy of the BSF personnel to open the gate. Hence, the Indian citizens who were “allowed to stay” outside the fence by the administration faced enormous problems in accessing basic facilities such as education, markets, healthcare services, and the like.[1] The situation of the Chakma displaced victims in Mizoram would be no different if the state government fails to resettle and rehabilitate them inside the fencing.


Third, to allow the out-fenced victims to remain where they are is nothing but a ploy being hatched by the state government to deny resettlement and rehabilitation to the displaced persons, develop their new settlements, protect them and look after their wellbeing. So far, neither the Central government nor the state government of Mizoram has made public any resettlement and rehabilitation plan which has made the victims worried about their future.

Finally, in absence of proper resettlement and rehabilitation there will befall a humanitarian disaster on the Chakmas which will make them economically subservient and socially disunited for generations to come.

The Chakma tribals inhabiting the border areas along the 318-km stretch Mizoram-Bangladesh border, where the fencing is coming up, are extremely impoverished and lacked development. Right to development is a fundamental human rights and Mahatma Gandhi said “Poverty is the worst form of violence”. Hence, the state government has been perpetrating “the worst form of violence” on the minority Chakma community by keeping their villages most undeveloped and compelling them live in a situation where they strive not for excellence or progress but struggle to make their both ends meet. This is despite the fact that the Central government has released Rs 1556 lakhs during 2004-05, Rs 903.48 lakhs during 2005-06, Rs 2262 lakhs during 2006-07 and Rs 2086 lakhs during 2007-08 to Mizoram under Border Area Development Programme (BADP) to primarily develop the interior areas nearest to the international borders. The Chakma habitations are on the border line (from zero to 10 kilometres) but there is no semblance of any development there. While Mizoram government claimed to have utilized all the funds released during 2004-05 to 2005-06, it failed to utilize Rs 991.83 lakhs during 2006-07.[2] There is wide gap between the claim of full utilization the fund and the lack of any improvement in the living standard of the targeted population. Also, the non-utilization of Rs 991.83 lakhs during 2006-07 is nothing less than criminal negligence on the part of the state government when the border people are left extremely impoverished.

Neither the Central government nor the state government of Mizoram can afford to ignore the interests of the half of the Chakma population who are facing displacement. The failure on the part of the State to provide proper resettlement and rehabilitation on time to the displaced people will have serious implications both for the Chakma community and Mizoram as a whole. The State has two stark choices to make: give better lives to the displaced for a brighter, happier and prosperous India or dump them to face the consequences.

Footnotes:
[1]. Source: The Assam Tribune, Guwahati, 2 December 2002, available at http://oldcontent.northeastplus.in/41.html, last accessed on 10 February 2009
[2]. Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt of India available at http://www.mha.nic.in/pdfs/BADP.pdf

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