An Election Commission decision to conduct a special summary revision of electoral lists in Mizoram has triggered protests and a court case over the inclusion of names of tribals who had fled to neighbouring Tripura almost two decades ago.
Around 31,300 Reang tribals, who locally call themselves "Bru", have been living in seven makeshift camps in northern Tripura for the past 19 years after they fled following ethnic trouble after the killing of a Mizo forest officer in Mamit district.
"Following Election Commission instructions, the Mizoram Election Department has published the draft electoral rolls on September 15 and from that date the process of summary revision was started," an official of the department said.
"After completing the three-and-a-half-month process, the final publication of the electoral rolls would be done on January 5, 2017, with January 1, 2017, as the qualifying date for including new names," he added.
The Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), the lone representative of the tribal refugees, is officially unaware about the special summary revision of electoral lists in Mizoram.
MBDPF general secretary Bruno Msha told IANS over phone from Kanchanpur in northern Tripura that the Mizoram government has told Union Home Ministry officials that they would start taking back the refugees only from November, by which time the vital procedures of the revision of rolls would be over.
"We don’t know how the names of the refugees would be included. Besides, former State Chief Information Commissioner Robert Hrangdawla filed a petition before the Mizoram bench of the Gauhati High Court seeking a direction to exclude the names of the Reang tribals from the state’s electoral list," Msha pointed out.
Msha also said that the Mizoram government and the Union Home Ministry are yet to officially inform them that the repatriation of Reang refuges from Tripura to Mizoram would start from November.
"If the refugees remained out of the electoral list revision process, it would be a blatant violation of the fundamental rights of genuine Indian citizens," he added.
He said Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla had also written to the Election Commission to keep out the names of the Reang tribals from the electoral list as they had been staying outside the state for many years.
Meanwhile, the Young Mizo Association (YMA) and the Mizo Students Federation (MSF), the two most powerful youth bodies in Mizoram, have been asking the Election Commission to delete the names of the tribals staying in Tripura since October 1997.
Following the commission’s advice, almost all states in the country, including Mizoram, have undertaken a special summary revision of photo electoral rolls with January 1, 2017, as the qualifying date.
Mizoram Election Department officials said that they have asked the district magistrates of Mamit, Lunglei and Lawngtlai, the areas where the Reang tribals are living, to initiate process of conducting the summary revision of electoral rolls.
The Tripura government has been asking the centre and the Mizoram government to take back the refugees at the earliest as serious socio-economic and law and order problems have cropped up in the state.
The Union Home Ministry’s Special Secretary (Internal Security), Mahesh Kumar Singla, and Joint Secretary incharge of the Northeast, Satyendra Garg, visited Tripura last month and met with officials of the Tripura government and leaders of the refugees.
They also visited Mizoram and held meetings with state government officials and tribal leaders.
The home ministry undertook serious efforts after the Supreme Court’s directives on repatriating the refugees.
The Mizoram government submitted a roadmap to the central government on how it plans to do so.
Mizoram Additional Secretary (Home) Lalbiakzama said that the state government submitted to the Union Home Ministry a detailed plan for taking the refugees back.
"The Mizoram government has sought Rs.68 crore from the central government to rehabilitate the tribals," Lalbiakzama said.
Refugee leader Bruno Msha said the MBDPF has been demanding financial assistance of Rs.150,000 per repatriated family, free rations for every repatriated family for two years, cultivable land, a political settlement of the ethnic problem and adequate security.
"We have on a number of occasions told the central and Mizoram governments that the refugees are willing to return to their homes in Mizoram if their 10-point demands, including security and rehabilitation, are met," he added.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh, accompanied by his deputy Kiren Rijiju, had visited the refugee camps in North Tripura in February last year and urged the Mizoram government and the refugees to end the stalemate.