With the repatriation of 31,300 tribal refugees to Mizoram uncertain, there has been no revision of electoral rolls in the seven camps they are sheltered in Agartala for the last 18 years – with one official even attributing the limbo to road blockages by protesters.
The Election Commission (EC) recently asked almost all states in the country, including Mizoram, to undertake a special summary revision of photo electoral rolls with January 1, 2016, as the qualifying date.
As part of the exercise, the EC asked the Mizoram election department to also do so in the seven refugee camps as the migrants are inhabitants of Mizoram.
According to officials, this sparked protests by youth organisations in Mizoram.
The Young Mizo Association (YMA) and the Mizo Students Federation (MSF), the two most powerful youth bodies in Mizoram, declared their strong objection to the poll panel’s move.
Around 31,300 Reang tribals, who locally call themselves “Bru”, have been living in seven makeshift camps in northern Tripura since October 1997 after they fled neighbouring Mizoram following ethnic troubles after the killing of a Mizo forest officer.
“Mizoram officials informed us that they would visit the refugee camps from October 25 to conduct the revision of electoral rolls. But they did not turn up and no fresh schedule has been communicated to us yet,” sub-divisional magistrate Nantu Ranjan Das of northern Tripura’s Kanchanpur was quoted by IANS.
“We have always been ready to provide logistical support to Mizoram officials either to repatriate the refugees or to revise the electoral rolls,” he said, adding that the refugees’ leaders were in a dilemma over returning to their homes in Mizoram.
An election department official in Mizoram said that the staff in western Mizoram’s Mamit district could not leave for Tripura due to recent road blockades by NGOs and local political parties.
“We did not ask the police to use force to disperse the mob as the agitators comprised aged men and women and children. If police use force, the situation might turn ugly and create it more problematic,” Mamit district Deputy Commissioner Lalbiaksangi said.
“We would definitely try to follow the schedule of the Election Commission to conduct the revision of electoral rolls in the refugee camps,” Lalbiaksangi added.
The NGOs, local political parties and youth bodies held that the refugees in the Tripura camps had refused to return to Mizoram despite repeated appeals by Mizo civil society groups and also many attempts by the state and central governments.
As directed by the Supreme Court, the home ministry held several meetings in New Delhi with the officials of Mizoram and Tripura and leaders of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), the lone organisation of the refugees, to resolve the imbroglio.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, accompanied by his deputy, Kiren Rijiju, and senior officials had visited refugees camps earlier this year to persuade the refugees to return to their homes.
Rajnath Singh also met Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and discussed the issue. Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla was supposed to attend the meeting in Agartala but he did not turn up, citing urgent work in the state.
MBDPF general secretary Bruno Msha said the Mizoram government was yet to accept their eight-point demands in writing. These include Rs.200,000 for each tribal family as financial support, free rations for four years, contiguous resettlement of the returnees and adequate security.
“We have also demanded land titles for the tribal families who are to be allotted plots to build houses and financial aid to purchase about 2.5 acres of farmland for each family,” Msha said.
“The experience of a few hundred refugees is very bad after their return to their villages in western Mizoram from Tripura a few years back as the Mizoram government did not fulfill its commitments.”