The government has done well with the Bru pact – analysis
On January 16, the central government, state governments of Tripura and Mizoram, and the Bru representative organisations signed a deal to pave way for over 30,000 displaced Brus from Mizoram to permanently settle in Tripura. The Bru people, who are also known as Reangs, are a predominantly Hindu tribe living in Christian-majority Mizoram. They took refuge in Tripura in 1997, as a result of clashes with the largely Christian Mizo tribes.
I am extremely happy with the signing of the agreement. The Bru people have been living in camps for the last 23 years. At different times, different schemes were devised for them, but only 6,500 people agreed to go back to Mizoram. There are currently 34,000 people in camps. As a result of this agreement, Tripura will do a physical verification of Bru families currently residing in the relief camps in Tripura, in order to ascertain the number of families and persons to be resettled in Tripura. Those who repatriated to Mizoram in the earlier phases will not be allowed to resettle in Tripura under this agreement.
The total Bru population is about two lakh, out of which one lakh are in Tripura. In fact, they are the second largest tribal group in Tripura and are listed among the 21 scheduled tribes (STs) of Tripura state. These people are not, or may not be, originally from Mizoram. In fact, there were hydroelectric projects in Tripura, and as a result of which some shifted to Mizoram. This means that the absorption of the Bru people in Tripura will not be very difficult.
What is important for the Bru people is that they are in three states, primarily Tripura, Mizoram, and Assam. In Mizoram, there is an absence of adequate housing, agriculture, medical and education facilities. Obviously, there were also inter-tribal tensions, which led to people shifting to these camps.
There is also something strategically significant about the Bru people. Along with Chakmas, and Miris, they live along the India-Bangladesh border. Governments in Bangladesh have not always been very friendly to these tribes. In fact, there were times when Bangladesh encouraged armed insurgent groups to fight against India. In such a scenario, the tribes living along the border have served as India’s first line of defence.
The rehabilitation plan is elaborate and will succeed. The government has provided that each family will receive ~4 lakh in fixed deposit for a period of two years. The government will, then, devise a scheme how should they invest it further. Every resettled family will also have a piece of land in clusters, measuring 30×40 ft, which means 1,200 sq ft for the construction of a house. Families shifting to Tripura will be given a housing building assistance of ~1, 50,000 per family. This money will be given in instalments, and 50% will be released to them only after the construction of the house.
The government has also come forward with a relief of ~5,000 per month as cash assistance to these families for two years from the date of their shifting to their new location. The families will also be given free ration for two years from the date of their resettlement in Tripura. The free ration will be given because the moment they shift, they will not find the land ready. It will take them some time to set up a small vocation — agriculture, piggery or poultry farming, and these ventures do not yield immediate results. Families need support, and the government has done something very humane by giving them this relief.
An additional point to note is that people have been provided a cushion from what could have ended up becoming a long process, subject to bureaucratic whims. The agreement makes it mandatory for the government of Tripura to give the Bru people ST certificates because they figure among the 21 STs of Tripura.
The most prominent aspect, from my point of view, is that the government has not only promised them schools. It has promised them Eklavya tribal residential schools in villages. So these are not schools but residential schools, which will ensure education to their children and equip them with greater exposure and life-skills.
The government of India, as well as the state governments concerned, have taken a huge step by arriving at this agreement. I just wish this had been done earlier. The kind of insurgencies that we have seen in the region over the decades may not have happened. Providing a solution to the Bru issue is laudable, both from a humane and from a national security prism.
Swaraj Kaushal is former Governor of Mizoram, and a Supreme Court lawyer
The views expressed are personal
(As told to KumKum Dasgupta)