- The Ministry of Home Affairs has presided over the signing of an agreement between Union Government, Governments of Tripura and Mizoram and Bru-Reang representatives to end the 23-year old Bru-Reang refugee crisis.
- 37,000 people of the Bru (or Reang) community were forced to flee their homes to neighbouring Tripura due to severe ethnic clashes in Mizoram.
Bru Community: Refugees at home
- The Bru or Reang is a community indigenous to Northeast India, living mostly in Tripura, Mizoram, and Assam.
- In Tripura, they are recognised as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG).
- Over two decades ago, they were targeted by the Mizo groups who demanded that the Bru be excluded from electoral rolls in the state.
- In October 1997, following ethnic clashes, nearly 37,000 Bru fled Mizoram’s Mamit, Kolasib, and Lunglei districts to Tripura, where they were sheltered in relief camps.
- Since then, over 5,000 have returned to Mizoram in nine phases of repatriation, while 32,000 people from 5,400 families still live in six relief camps in North Tripura.
Miseries of the Bru
- Under a relief package announced by the Centre, a daily ration of 600 gm rice was provided to every adult Bru migrant and 300 g to every minor. Some salt was also given to each family.
- Every adult received a daily cash dole of Rs 5; every minor Rs 2.50.
- Meagre allocations were made from time to time for essentials such as soap, slippers, and mosquito nets.
- Most migrants sold a part of their rice and used the money to buy supplies, including medicines.
- They depended on the wild for vegetables, and some of them have been practising slash-and-burn (jhum) cultivation in the forests.
- They live in makeshift bamboo thatched huts, without permanent power supply and safe drinking water, with no access to proper healthcare services or schools.
How did the agreement come about?
- In June 2018, Bru leaders signed an agreement in Delhi with the Centre and the two-state governments, providing for repatriation to Mizoram.
- Most residents of the camps, however, rejected the “insufficient” terms of the agreement.
- The camp residents said the package did not guarantee their safety in Mizoram, and that they feared a repeat of the violence that had forced them to flee.
- On November 16, 2019, Pradyot Kishore Debbarma, scion of Tripura’s erstwhile royal family, wrote to Home Minister seeking the resettlement of the Bru in the state.
Highlights of the Quadripartite Agreement
- All Bru tribals currently living in temporary relief camps in Tripura will be settled in the state if they want to stay on.
- The Bru who returned to Mizoram in the eight phases of repatriation since 2009, cannot come back to Tripura.
- Each resettled family will get 03 acre (1.5 ganda) of land for building a home, Rs 1.5 lakh as housing assistance, and Rs 4 lakh as a one-time cash benefit for sustenance.
- They will also receive a monthly allowance of Rs 5,000, and free rations for two years from the date of resettlement.
- All cash assistance will be through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), and the state government will expedite the opening of bank accounts and the issuance of Aadhaar, permanent residence certificates, ST certificates, and voter identity cards to the beneficiaries.
Where will they be resettled?
- Revenue experts reckon 162 acres required for the rehabilitation.
- The move will require khash or government land, but since Tripura is a small state (only 10,491 sq km) the state authorities would explore the possibility of diverting forest lands.
- Diverting forest land for human settlements will, however, need clearance from the MoEFCC which is likely to take at least three months.
When will the resettlement take place?
- Physical verification to identify beneficiaries will be carried out within 15 days of the signing of the deal.
- The land for resettlement will be identified within 60 days, and the land for allotment will be identified within 150 days.
- The beneficiaries will get housing assistance, but the state government will build their homes and hand over possession.
- They will be moved to resettlement locations in four clusters, paving the way for the closure of the temporary camps within 180 days of the signing of the agreement.
- All dwelling houses will be constructed and payments completed within 270 days.
Issues With The Agreement
- The agreement to settle some 35,000 Bru tribal people in Tripura and not in Mizoram from where they were displaced, could encourage the creation of ethnocentric States in the northeast, rights activists have said.
- Activists argue that the “solution” has the potential of creating conflicts between the Brus and indigenous communities of Tripura, but addresses the insecurities of a tribe that survived and fled violence.
- The northeast has had a history of ethnic conflicts — not only between the “indigenous” and “settlers” but inter-tribe too — and issues could also arise within smaller sub-groups within the same tribe.
- Decision could also throw up questions of citizenship, specifically in Assam where a process is on to define who is indigenous and who is not.
- Assam-based activists said the move on the Brus legitimises the settlement of foreigners under Citizenship (Amendment) Act too, creating conflicts with the indigenous people as well as communities that settled earlier.
- Despite the issues flagged by various stakeholders in the region, the agreement has provided the Brus with a solution.
- Various Mizo organizations have reassured they have welcomed those who came back.
- According to these organizations, they have no issues with those identified by the government as Mizoram inhabitants even if they return now in spite of the Tripura rehabilitation offer.
- The Brus cannot live in transit camps forever.