Updated: Sep 12, 2020
This opinion piece has been authored by Khalendra Mochhary. Mochhary is a retired IAS and Ex-Secretary with the Government of West Bengal who also served as an Administrative Member of WBLRTT (9/3/17 to 28/2/19).
Memorandum of Settlement (MoS)-3rd Bodo Accord, popularly called BTR Accord signed on 27th January, 2020 by the Central Government, State Government, ABSU, four factions of NDFB and United Bodo People's Organization (UBPO).
1. A lot of debates and discussions are going on in social media and other forum among Bodo intellectuals, academics, political/social activists et al on merits and demerits of this MoS (hereafter referred to as BTR Accord for convenience). I will deal with some of the salient clauses and I wish to share my thoughts and feelings. As I understand BTR Accord should be discussed in tandem with, and with reference to, the BTC Accord. This will enable us to discuss it in a proper perspective. BTR Accord is obviously rather an extension of, and embedded in, BTC which was created by way of suitable amendments in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India [Article 244(2) and Article 275(1)] in 2003. The Bodo Autonomous Council (BAC-1st Bodo Accord) was created by the Bodoland Autonomous Council Act, 1993 and it was repealed by the Bodoland Autonomous Council (Repeal) Act, 2003, after coming into force of the BTC Act, 2003.
After long and arduous mass movements for another 17 years or so and after signing the BTC Accord (2nd Bodo Accord) on 10th February, 2003, the BTR Accord (3rd Accord) could materialize on 27th January, 2020. There is no denying that necessary amendments will have to be made in relevant paragraphs and sub-paragraphs of the Sixth Schedule in respect of BTC to implement the clauses of this BTR Accord.
2. It may be noted that nowhere in the MoS/BTR Accord it has been declared or mandated "as a comprehensive and final solution". However in clause 1, it is stated that the objective of this MoS was to arrive at "a comprehensive and final solution to their demands while keeping intact the territorial integrity of the State of Assam". It is nothing but a holistic expression of intent. We need not give much credence or importance to what the political leaders and political executives are used to say or said in media to highlight their achievement in this regard. It is better and wise to stick to what is actually written in the BTR Accord.
3. In clause 2, there is no ambiguity regarding the main objectives of this Accord, such as, augmenting area and powers of the BTC, streamlining its functioning, addressing issues relating to Bodo people residing outside BTAD etc.
4. As laid down in clause 3, a Commission has to be appointed under the paragraph 14 of the Sixth Schedule with involvement and participation of the State Government representative, those of ABSU as well as BTC. This Commission is mandated to examine and recommend inclusion of villages contiguous to BTAD and having majority tribal population, exclusion of villages currently under BTAD, which are contiguous to non-Sixth Schedule areas, and having majority of non-tribal population and increase in constituencies of BTC up to 60 seats. The sooner the Commission is appointed the better. Otherwise, the process of implementation of this BTR Accord will further get delayed which is not at all desirable.
5. In clause 3.3, it is laid down that BTAD (Bodoland Territorial Areas District) shall be renamed as BTR (Bodoland Territorial Region) comprising area covered under BTAD. It may be further noted that it is clearly stated in the Sixth Schedule relating to BTC that the District Council constituted in BTAD shall be called Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). Now, logically, the District Council should be renamed as "BTR Council". As discussed above such modifications can be done only through necessary amendments in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
6. As stated in clause 4.1, BTC has been given more legislative, executive, administrative and financial powers relating to additional subjects as enumerated at Annexure 1 of this Accord. It is appreciable.
7. As stated in clause 4.3, the Constitution (125th Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced in the Parliament in January, 2019 to amend some provisions of the Sixth Schedule and also to amend Article 280 of the Constitution to improve the financial resources and administrative powers of District/Regional Councils. It is proposed to insert a sub-clause under the sub-clause (c) of clause (3) of Article 280 as follows - "(ca) the measures are needed to augment the Consolidated Fund of State to supplement the resources of the District Council including Village Councils and Municipal Councils in tribal areas within the State referred to in clause (2) of Article 244 on the basis of recommendation made by the Finance Commission of the said State".
It is indeed a welcome step to augment resources of District Councils which includes BTC also through such robust constitutional arrangements. Admittedly, this 125th amendment was placed in the Parliament way back in January 2019, about one year before finalizing and signing this BTR Accord/3rd Bodo Accord. Therefore, there was no scope to amend relevant paragraphs in the Sixth Schedule relating to this Accord. Now, it is up to the discretion and wisdom of the Central Government as to whether necessary amendments in the Sixth Schedule will be introduced in the Parliament afresh to expedite the implementation of this MoS signed on 27/01/20 in letter and spirit.
8. As laid down in clause 4.4, a senior officer in the rank of Principal Secretary of the State Government will be appointed to act as the Chief Executive Officer of the BTC. This designation is incongruous with the best practice and tradition of secretariat administration where major policy decisions are taken and implemented. With this seniority in IAS he or she is expected to coordinate with Deputy Commissioner/District Magistrate, Superintendent of police, DIG, IG and others in BTC areas. The designation of Chief Executive Officer is widely used as the top Officer to head Zilla Parishad, Government undertakings etc.
9. As laid down in clause 6.2, the State Government will notify Bodo language in Devanagari script as an associate official language in the State. We expect this commitment will be fulfilled at the earliest.
10. As of now, WPT & BC is entrusted with dealing with matters in respect of BTC. It will be administratively more convenient if a separate and dedicated Government Department is created to deal with matters relating to Councils under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution including BTC. This is also appreciable as laid down in clause 8.1.
As laid down in clause 8.4, the State Government will take proactive measures to give financial compensation of Rs. 5,00,000/- (five lakh) to each of next of kin of persons who lost their lives in agitation for separate State on an urgent basis.
11. As per clause 9.2, the State Government must take up appropriate measures for rehabilitation of ex-NDFB cadres of all factions on an urgent basis.
In terms of clause 9.4, the State Government shall take appropriate measures as per the established procedure of law to review and withdraw cases both non-heinous and heinous registered against ex-cadres who have already returned to normal mainstream life after giving up armed movements. This should be done by the State Government with utmost importance and urgency it eminently deserves.
A strong and persistent pressure must be put upon the State Government by our Bodo political leaders, civil societies in the greater interests of Bodo people.
12. Through signing this BTR Accord both the Central Government and the State Government have given commitments on wide ranging development packages as stated in clause 10, at Annexure-B, Annexure-III, Annexure-IV.
To conclude, admittedly, any type of MoS/Accord signed with the Central Government/State Government is essentially based on mutual understanding, trust and confidence. Its implementation depends on mutual trust, vigilance, and cooperation of both sides.
As they say "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty", not only signatories, all the Bodo leaders, intellectuals, social/political activists et al, irrespective of differences of opinions and perceptions should come forward to consolidate and make use of multiple gains we are expected to get through this MoS/3rd Bodo Accord if implemented in letter and spirit. Each Bodo Accord right from BAC, down to BTC and BTR has an immense historical dimension and significance and it speaks of a long, valiant and protracted movements of Bodo people at large led by their dedicated Bodo leaders. In fact, Bodo people's recent history in Assam, not to speak of other States where minuscule number of Bodo/Mech people live, is replete with quite painful, revolting, and unenviable records and incidents that whatever we have achieved are not handed over on a platter, but through tremendous sufferings loss of lives and long arduous mass movements.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the blogging website Zaoliyagwsw. This blog was originally a facebook post by the author in his personal facebook social media account.