Monday, September 7, 2009

The border fencing conundrum in Mizoram

- The insensitivity of the Mizoram government is deplorable -

By Paritosh Chakma

The Chakma tribals in Mizoram are in awkward situation, thanks to the ongoing border fencing along the Mizoram-Bangladesh border. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Annual Report 2008-2009, fencing of 150.15 km stretch out of the total 352.33 km sanctioned in Mizoram has been completed.

As many as 35,438 Chakmas from 5790 families in 49 villages, i.e. 49.7% of the total Chakma population, will be displaced. Their land, homestead, garden and forests have been acquired by the state government of Mizoram under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. In all land acquisitions across the country, the State has always employed arbitrary methods. Notably, 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 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).

Protests by the Chakmas can be dealt with firmly on the ground of “obstruction” or “inference” by the protestors to the fencing activities. This takes away the democratic right to protest peacefully against injustice, if any. Of course, there have been lots of injustices.

The victims have been alleging discrimination in payment of compensation. While some have only received in thousands (below 1 lakh), some others have managed to get as high as thirty lakhs or a few even above. How these people got so high whereas some got extremely low has not been explained. Yet, some have informed me that they have not got any compensation despite losing their fertile lands or gardens. One of my friends told me his name was okeyed by the surveyors and he did produce his land document but he came to know from insiders that his name is missing from the final list of beneficiaries. He is contemplating legal action and I support him very much. This means that there is simply no iota of transparency, openness and fairness in the delivery of compensations. Often, in such environment there is high chance of corruption among officials and others. And, Lal Thanhawla administration which has promised clean and good governance must take notice of this.

As for the prospect of resettlement and rehabilitation there is complete darkness. The fencing affected people who are really innocent and ignorant about the affairs of the state (displacement is new phenomenon to them) keep on asking me on the phone whether I came to know anything from the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi about R & R. The state government of Mizoram has never cared to assuage their feelings of insecurity or alienation. In fact, district level officials have been suggesting that there may not be any R&R and the victims will have to rebuild their lives with the compensation money they have been provided. This struck fear in the hearts of the Chakma victims as majority of them have consumed up their compensation money, and they have now been living in penury.(To know more in this regard, read another report: Let the Chakmas live in peace; give them the respect they deserve )

In comparison, other state governments are better. At least they think the people who are affected by the border fencing are their own. The state government of Meghalaya had even suspended the fencing works in response to the protests from the victims and this provided itself and officials of Border Management to investigate the grievances expressed by the affected people. Nothing of that sort has happened in Mizoram. On 1 September 2009, Tripura Chief Minister gave an assurance in the State Assembly that all the displaced families (7,997 families) will be provided proper rehabilitation in the state (The Sentinel, 3 September 2009). He was replying to a query by an opposition Congress MLA. Compare this with the position adopted by the Mizoram Home Department with regard to the Chakmas: “It may be mentioned that those families placed on the other side of the Fencing Line may not be called 'displaced' since the Fencing Line is not the boundary of Indo-Bangia Border.” How funny! Does the Mizoram government trying to say that the fencing affected people will not be provided any rehabilitation?

Such insensitivity on the part of the Mizoram government is highly deplorable. Although about half of the Chakmas in Mizoram will be displaced, Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla, or his predecessor Zoramthanga of MNF,  has never made any policy statement in the House or elsewhere. No peoples’ representative including the two Chakma MLAs in the House has raised any concern for the would-be displaced Chakmas. Instead the Chakmas have been kept guessing in the dark.

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To know more about the situation of Chakmas in Mizoram, please read "Mizoram: Minority Report" by Paritosh Chakma, The Economic & Political Weekly, 6 June 2009 Issue

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