It was a dark night for 4-year-old Lalmuanpuia Apeto and his family. Along with 30,000 others from Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei district of Mizoram, Apeto and his family had to flee through the jungles to Tripura in 1997 following an ethnic clash between two communities.
Apeto, now 27, had always wanted to return to his ancestral village at Dinthar Bethel in Mamit district of Mizoram. During his lifetime, he has witnessed several rounds of the repatriation process conducted by the ministry of home affairs and Mizoram government. But only 8,000 people could return until 2020. Apeto was not one of the returnees.
Since 1997, the Brus have been languishing in six relief camps in Naisingpara, Ashaparaa, Hezacherra, Kaskau, Khakchangpara, and Hamsapara in Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-divisions of Tripura since then.
“On January 16, 2020, when the Union Home Minister Amit Shah signed the quadripartite agreement, we thought everything would be solved, and we would get a house that would have electricity, sanitation and other facilities which were lacking for decades,” Apeto said.
According to the pact, every family of the Brus would get a 40×30 ft plot to build a house, Rs 4 lakh as fixed deposit, financial aid of Rs 5,000 per month along with free rations supply for the next two years to all the Bru families. To build the house, an amount of Rs 1.5 lakh will also be provided to every family.
Apeto expressed happiness at the attempts made by the governments but said many were unable to return to Mizoram.
“Our demands were never accepted by the Mizoram government. That is why settling in Tripura is a better option for us. We are waiting for the government to expedite the process of resettlement,” Apeto said.
It is clear that the process of resettlement would be long, arduous, and ultimately, its failure or success would depend on the community leaders more than people like Apeto. And the political leaders seem far busier in blaming each other for the issues instead of solving them.
The challenges are many, but land allotment remains the most contentious issue for the Brus who have now settled in Tripura.
Bruno Msha, general secretary of Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), said Tripura government is yet to complete the process of the land allotment.
“As per the agreement, the resettlement should be completed within 260 days. But due to lockdown, coronavirus issue and protest by two organisations–Nagarik Suraksha Manch (NSM) and Mizo convention—over land selection in Kanchanpur sub-division the process has been delayed,” Msha told EastMojo.
“The government has selected forest land which would be diverted into govt khash land. According to experts, it will take a minimum of six months and up to two years for the process to complete,” Msha added.
There should be an alternate way instead for the early completion of the resettlement, Msha said.
“Allotment of land is not completed yet. The govt has selected forest land which would be diverted into govt khash land. According to experts, it will take a minimum of six months and up to two years for the process to complete,” Msha added.
However, he maintained that transferring of land would take a long time and it should find an alternate way instead for the early completion of the resettlement.
“The government has selected 14 locations across six districts of the state. Out of that, some locations are opposed by the residents, while are not preferable for resettlement. The bru leader representing five NGOs had suggested making settlement at 10 location including Ambassa, Manu, Kanchanpur, Panisagar sub-divisions,” Msha opined.
Tripura Congress vice president Tapas Dey said that there is no governance in Tripura and they are more interested in earning money than people’s welfare.
“It is their inefficiency that they could not solve the problems of the Brus. They want to keep this problem alive till the autonomous district council (ADC) elections, and they will use the fund allotted as promised by the government of India in the ADC polls,” Dey told EastMojo.
CPIM leader and former MP Jitendra Chaudhury said that his party wants to complete the rehabilitation process very smoothly as soon as possible.
“This government believes in only propaganda making. If they would have been willing to rehabilitate, they would have involved people from all stake. They thought that with the help of bureaucracy they would rehabilitate it and to gain their name,” Chaudhury said.
Tripura royal scion and the Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) chairman Pradyot Kishore Deb Barman said that he is very disappointed that there has been no movement in the positive direction.
Mevar Kumar Jamatia, Tripura Forest and Tribal Welfare Minister, believes that the process was delayed due to the protests in Kanchanpur sub-division last year.
“We have taken up the matter and discussed with the cabinet to complete the resettlement process at the earliest. We are hopeful that within this year, the entire process will be completed,” Jamatia said.
The Joint Movement Committee (JMC), a local ethnic organisation, had been protesting against the resettlement of Bru families in Kanchanpur sub-division. The protests turned violent on November 21 last during the national highway blockade, which claimed two lives including a protestor Srikanta Das and fireman Biswajit Debbarma.
The state government had announced a magisterial-level inquiry to be conducted by the North district magistrate Nagesh Kumar B and submit the report ‘within one month’. A sum of Rs 5 lakh would also be provided to the family of the deceased, the government said.
The JMC convener Sushanta Bikash Barua said that two months after the Panisagar violence, they are still waiting for a judicial inquiry and arrest of culprits behind the killing of Srikanta Das and Fireman Biswajit Debbarma.
“The state had assured to provide financial assistance for all health treatment for those who were injured in the violence. We had sent Hare Krishna Das for treatment outside the state in government expenditure, but now we are waiting for assistance for re-treatment of Das,” Barua said.
In another incident, On November 27, Litan Nath was abducted and after almost 50 days later, his decomposed body was recovered by the police. The JMC leaders organised torch rallies in three locations in Kanchanpur sub-division demanding justice for the family.
“We have seen in media reports that along National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) (Biswa Mohan) group and Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) are involved the activities and murder.
Speaking about the resettlement of Bru families in Kanchanpur sub-division, Barua said that the JMC leaders have placed the demand to not settle more than 500 families in Kanchanpur sub-division.
“We have opposed the resettlement of families in Manu Chailengta, CCRF and Nandigram village in Kanchanpur,” Barua added.
When contacted, officials from the forest department told EastMojo that the Tripura government had identified 16 places in Kanchanpur, Panisagar, Longtharai Valley, Ambassa, Khowai, Kailashahar, Dharmanagar and Sonamura subdivisions. However, any resettlement was possible only after the central government’s nod since all the land in question is under the category of ‘reserved forests’.
“The revenue department has already sent a proposal to the Shillong-based North East Reserve Forest Office seeking approval to make the land unreserved. Once the approval is received the suggestive measures will also be known to us,” the forest official told EastMojo.