Polls & Promises: A ground report of tribal areas in Tripura
Almost three decades after the constitution of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) the people here want the basics due to continuous exploitation and failure in fulfilling the pre-poll promises made by the leaders to the one-third population of Tripura.
The TTAADC was constituted through a vote by secret ballot on January 15, 1982, and the elected members were sworn in on January 18, 1982. Subsequently, the Constitution of India was amended by a Bill, and it was unanimously passed on the floor of the Indian Parliament on August 23, 1984 for the introduction of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution in India.
The TTAADC covers 7,132.56 sq km, which is around 70 per cent of the geographical area of the state. It is also home to one-third of the state’s population.
The TTAADC consists of a 30 member council, of which 28 are elected, and the Governor nominates two members. To increase the strength of the tribal council, the government has decided to increase the number of seats to 50.
PROMISES & DEMANDS
People in the ADC areas are still struggling for the basics. Good roads, drinking water, electricity, and sustainable livelihood options are of foremost concern.
Joy Charan Rupini of Baramura village in the state's Khowai district is among those who are struggling to make ends meet. Government schemes such as MGNREGA have not worked for him.
"In Baramura, we do not have a crop field, and there is no source of income. We sell bamboo shoots and bananas to sustain our livelihood. MGNREGA work is given for 10-15 days which is not enough," said Rupini
"Business place is not available, and now due to the end of summer, the bamboo shoot is not available. There is no place for daily work, and the villagers are in deep trouble as even though the government we are not getting any work," he added.
Located at a distance of 45 km from the capital Agartala, Baramura is also famous for organically grown lemon locally known as "elaichilebu" which is sold across the state. However, villagers cannot reach out to the consumers due to the lack of a proper market in the village. Their only option is to set up stalls by the roadside.
"We cultivate lemon but often face problems in reaching the roadside market due to poor road conditions, especially during the rainy season. We sell the lemon to traders from Agartala. If we fail to sell the lemons in one day, we have to wait for the next day. There is no market place here. If they provide us with a factory or a warehouse, it will be beneficial for us" Hiranya Rupini.
During the rainy season vendors like Hiranya have to take shelter in shops by the road.
Long lines for water are a common site in Khamtingbari village in West Tripura. The locals have been facing water scarcity for years. Their only source of drinking water is a stream running down the hill.
“We have to collect water from the canal, and since most of the time there is no power, most of the houses do not get water supply connection. So we have to collect water from the steam. Many times, we suffer from diseases like diarrhoea”, said Ratan Molsom.
The existing water supply scheme was only initiated after protests by locals.
Protests also erupted in the state’s Teliamura area on October 20 after water supply was disrupted for days. Angry residents blocked the main road with buckets and pitchers as traffic came to a standstill for several hours.
It was only after assurance from officials for resumption of supply that the blockade was removed.
The problem in these areas is not just restricted to poor roads, lack of proper drinking water, and electricity but a major reason behind the discontent among the residents is the failure of leaders in keeping promises made before elections.
“Before the elections, the leaders came here. Even Kalyani Roy (MLA) also came here before the elections and held meetings making promises that they would provide road and water. They also promised to provide Rs 300 for MGNREGA work, and after the end of polls they have not even visited to check if we are doing good, not bad”, stated Hari Dutta.
The elections come every five years, and now we would not vote for them if they do not give what they promised to us or else in the next five years we would not even allow holding a meeting here in the village, added Hari Dutta.
Lack of infrastructure to deliver proper education to children in villages is another concern. Pramila Jamatia of Salkakami village highlights the same.
“Whoever comes to power they forget their promises even though we choose them for development. We have been waiting for work. The students are not getting proper education”, mentioned Pramila Jamatia.
Tripura has 592 government high schools of which 283 are in ADC, which means 53 per cent of the government high schools are outside the ADC areas. Of the 380 Higher Secondary schools only 106 are in the ADC areas which constitutes to only 27 per cent of the government higher secondary schools.
WRANGLES & BLAME GAME
In capital Agartala, political parties are girding their loins. As the battleground is being prepared alliances, discords, and blame games between the four fronts are gaining momentum.
Taking a dig at the ruling BJP, CPIM leader and former member of parliament Jitendra Choudhury said that BJP has unleashed semi-fascist terror and deceived the people of Tripura.
“In the state of Tripura apart from the semi-fascist terror, unleashed by the BJP, people are with us. Yes, during the 2018 general assembly elections the people were deceived. They had given the promises and vision document and so many things. They have been deceived and confused once, but today they have realized and despite the gundagardi hundreds of people are coming out on the streets against the government action”, Choudhury said.
Jitendra Choudhury, Ex-MP and CPIM leader
Tripura Congress leader Tapas Dey blames the left front and the regional parties for overlooking development in the ADC areas. He also claims that the BJP has put the tribals in the worst situation ever.
"Most of the time, the left front and some allied regional parties ran the ADC areas but created an elite class whereas the poor remained as they were. The purpose of the formation of the 6th schedule in TTAADC is frustrated, and the tribals did not get any benefit from the rulers be it the regional parties or the CPM", Dey said.
Tapas Dey, Leader, Tripura Pradesh Congress Committee
BJP's alliance partner the Indigenous Peoples' Front of Tipraland has announced that it will be contesting independently if seat shearing does not happen between the two partners.
The BJP however, only considers CPI (M) to their prime opposition but also doubts that they will able to provide candidature in all 28 constituencies.
"I won't even talk about Congress because they are not in a position to contest elections. The main opposition in Tripura is CPIM, but as per my knowledge they will not be able to provide candidature in 28 constituencies because many of the party members have joined us and many of them are in talks with us, but we are not taking all of them because their history is not very clean. So we are thinking about it", Nabendu Bhattacharya said.
There are also reports of a rebellion within the BJP. A group of MLAs of the ruling party want Biplab Deb removed as chief minister of the state. They claim that Biplab Deb's rule is fuelling anger among the masses and which is also paving the way for the return of the Left Front and building support for the Congress.
Meanwhile, the Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance chaired by the royal scion and former TPCC chief Pradyot Kishore Deb Barma is also likely to play a crucial role in the upcoming elections as several tribal parties have decided to fight under the banner of TIPRA.
This is after an alliance was forged with two indigenous political parties in a bid to work for the socio-economic, cultural and political rights of the indigenous people.
"On certain issues, we have no differences, so what is wrong if we come together and fight the ADC elections, whenever it comes. We know that the governments are not very interested in rebuilding the ADC so the tribal areas can be given more attention in the developmental works", INPT chief BK Hrankhawl said.
BK Hrankhawl, President, Indigenous Nationalist Peoples’ of Tripura
On the one hand, concerns are being raised by the opposition parties over further delay of the ADC election, on the other hand, the BJP-IPFT government recently passed a bill allowing the formation of town committees in Kanchanpur sub-division and Khumulwng, headquarters of the TTAADC.
But, whether or not the step by the ruling party will be able to convince the people to vote in favour of them, only time will tell. But the demands of the people in the ADC areas remain the basics.