NEW DELHI: The government on Monday signed a “historic” peace accord with all four factions of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), a Bodo insurgent organisation that has been leading an armed struggle in Assam, with the aim to bring “permanent peace” in Bodo-dominated areas of the state.
The pact, described by Union Home Minister Amit Shah as a “golden document”, also promised to provide a slew of economic activities for the tribals.
“All demands of Assam’s division are over now,” Shah said, adding the agreement involved all stakeholders, unlike in the past when three groups were left out.
Shah said the Centre would take a sympathetic view at those who took up arms for a statehood movement.
The Assam government would soon notify Bodo language in the Devanagari script as an associate official language of the state.
Besides the NDFB factions, the other signatories are the All Bodo Students’ Union, which has been spearheading a movement for a separate Bodoland state since 1972, the United Bodo People’s Organisation, the Centre and the Assam government.
Monday’s agreement is the third Bodo accord to be signed in 27 years.
The first accord was signed with the All Bodo Students Union in 1993, leading to the creation of the Bodoland Autonomous Council with limited political powers.
In 2003, the second accord was signed with the militant group, Bodo Liberation Tigers, leading to the formation of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) with four districts of Assam — Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baska and Udalguri — called the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD).
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and state Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma Sarma said the agreement “reaffirms the territorial integrity” of Assam.
Sarma said the existing BTC would be strengthened with more powers and the number of seats would be increased from 40 to 60.
The finance minister said there would be a relook at the areas under the BTAD for which a commission would soon to set up.
BTAD to be revised to cover maximum Bodo villages
The purpose for revising the areas under the BTAD was to cover more villages with substantial Bodo presence and also to exclude villages that had hardly any Bodo footprint.
A major criticism of the 2003 accord was that close to 600 villages had either no tribals or very few tribals.
Another improvement in the latest accord is that a separate body called the Bodo- Kachari Welfare Council would be set up for the development of Bodo villages outside the BTAD.
“An Advisory Committee comprising representatives of Government of Assam, BTC and the Bodo-Kachari Welfare Council shall be set up to identify specific developmental needs of Bodo villages outside BTAD,” the agreement said.
The state government may also consider enacting a special legislation to provide adequate safeguards to land rights of tribals living outside tribal belts and areas outside the BTAD.
Former Rajya Sabha member U G Brahma, who was also ABSU president and was present at the signing, described the greater rights of tribals over their land as an improvement over the past accord. The executive powers of the council have also been enhanced, he added.
The accord said the state government would give Rs 5 lakh each to the next of kin of those who lost their lives during the agitation for a separate state, withdrawal of criminal cases with non-heinous charges against NDFB members while heinous cases would be reviewed on a case-to-case basis.
PM expects transformative results
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the accord saying it would usher in a new dawn of peace, harmony and togetherness.
The accord will produce transformative results for the Bodo people, he added