DIALOGUE: ROAD TO PEACE IN ASSAM’S HILL DISTRICTS
A Roundtable
Guwahati, 13 March 2010

 
  Session I: Insurgency

Focus Speaker: Shri HK Deka, IPS (Retd), Former DGP, Assam

  Session II: Ethnic Divide

Focus Speaker: Dr NG Mahanta, Head, Peace & Conflict Studies Centre, Gauhati University

  Session III: Statehood (Nomenclature in NC Hills)

Focus Speaker: Dr Akhil Ranjan Dutta, Reader, Department of Political Science, Gauhati University

  Session IV: Autonomous Council (Is it a failure?)

Focus Speaker: Shri S.G.Kashyap, Northeast India Correspondent,
Indian Express
  Session V: Infrastructure & Development

Focus Speaker: Shri Abhijit Sharma, Faculty, Indian Institute of Bank Management

  Session VI: Resolutions

Intense discussion among everyone present was seen in every session.

 

 

Welcome Address by Shri Wasbir Hussain, Director, CDPS

 
  • It is a more difficult task for the government to talk peace and end a conflict by coming up with an acceptable peace formula than being engaged in a routine counter-insurgency operation. Now that almost all the insurgent groups are on a ceasefire, the challenge before the Government is much more than before.
  • If this is a challenge for the government, it is also a challenge for the militant groups—after all, negotiations itself means working towards an acceptable solution. And, this involves a give and take approach.
  • There is a linkage between ethnic aspirations, insurgency and lack of development. Governance has to improve for things to change. If governance improves, frustration among the people will reduce.
  • Need for a holistic approach and a close coordination between the government and civil society to bring about development and progress in the area.
  Address by Chief Guest Shri Rong Bong Terang, President, Asom Sahitya Sabha
 
  • The militant groups and the Government must realize the futility of using violence as a means of solving social, political and economic problems
  • Need for corresponding increase in the awareness level of the people in the two districts, irrespective of their ethnicity, social status, political affiliation
  Overview by Dr Udayon Misra, Author and Analyst, former Professor of DU
  The major issues disrupting peace in the hill districts are:
  • Lack of distributive justice
  • Violation of rule of law
  • Prevalence of the ‘We’ versus ‘they’ syndrome
  Address by Arun Sarma (Padma Shree), President, CDPS
 
  • The challenge is how to work out a solution that lasts, a solution that can satisfy the hopes and aspirations of the people and at the same time something which the Government can actually agree to and give.
  • All militant groups in the two districts are now on a ceasefire. There cannot be any better scenario than this to start work towards making peace in the area.
  • The main challenge is of governance, and civil societies can contribute their bit in improving governance. After all, the people who rule the two districts are their own people and they must therefore be held accountable to the people.
  The Executive Summary:
  INSURGENCY
 
  • Root causes of insurgency in the districts are a deep sense of insecurity among the tribal people, fear of losing their culture, fear of losing jobs and fear of losing their land to the outsiders
  • The political and economic aspirations of the Karbis and the Dimasas need to be addressed but there is a need to balance their demands against the genuine concerns of other tribal communities
  • For permanent peace in the hills, some significant steps have to be taken:
  • i) spread of education,
    ii) proper utilization of resources
    iii) professional training
    iv) a new policy of land and agriculture
    v) eradication of corruption
    vi) creation of people’s awareness to generate a work culture and
    vii) industrialization
  • Government has to be more proactive and solve the problems of insurgent groups. The delay in the peace process can adversely affect the society.
  • Need to understand the sentiments of the tribal people
  • Corruption and lack of education are the main problems faced by the tribal people in the districts. Government must understand the practical problems of the people in order to find out a solution.
  ETHNIC DIVIDE
 
  • Ethnic division is not a new issue. Formation of an ‘ethnic council’ can be considered and the government must give authority and financial power to the people
  • The major problem that remains is the nomenclature of “Dimaraji”. A neutral name as “Hasao” could be suggested for NC Hills district.
  • Create a permanent body or organization comprising representatives from all ethnic groups to bridge the ethnic divide or conflict in the districts
  STATEHOOD
 
  • Statehood – a prime demand of all the insurgent groups in the region
  • Statehood may not be fruitful due to the over centralized nature of the Indian federalism
  • The grievances of the tribal people must be heard in the Parliament. Without statehood, the problems of the people will not be heard. So it is necessary to form a state.
  • By providing statehood to the hill districts, government can solve majority of the problems. The wrong notion that tribals cannot run the administration smoothly has to be discarded.
  • A united statehood can be thought about by elevating the two hill districts of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills.
  AUTONOMOUS COUNCIL (IS IT A FAILURE?)
 
  • Autonomy in the form of self-governance and self decision-making should have made the people prosperous and development should have reached the remotest corners of the district. But, this has not taken place.
  • Two reasons for failure of the Autonomous Council are inefficiency and corruption of the leaders and the inherent defects in the Council itself
  • Lack of awareness among the common people regarding the flow of funds allocated especially for them and gross anomalies and misappropriation of funds. Awareness camps will have to be held to educate the villagers on the inflow and use of funds for development work in their areas so that any misuse or diversion of fund could be detected easily by the villagers themselves
  • To ensure that the development funds are properly utilized, setting up of a liaison cell comprising Council and civil society members can be thought of. There is need for imparting training to the members of the Councils on administration.
  • To root out or halt the level of corruption, the Right to Information Act should be used to the fullest extent especially by the student and youth organizations. RTI Act should be explained to the villagers so that they may take full advantage of it.
  INFRASTRUCTURE AND DEVELOPMENT
 
  • Three spheres in which development can be seen:
    i) Availability – Physical and Manpower
    ii) Ability
    iii) Accountability
  • The village councils under the autonomous councils could be made part of the governing structure of the autonomous councils.
  • It is found that only accountability increases the ability of the system to deliver and only then there can be genuine development
  • The setting up of a liaison body of Council members and civil society leaders to keep track of the allotment and utilization of development funds in the districts should be effective in ensuring transparency in development works.
  RESOLUTIONS & ACTION POINTS
 
  • Since all the militant groups in North Cachar Hills and Karbi Anglong have entered into a ceasefire, a congenial atmosphere has been created to start peace dialogue between the rebel groups and the Government. To demonstrate its sincerity in taking the peace process to its logical conclusion, the Government must put the negotiation process on fast-track and move ahead without delay in holding talks with all militant groups. The Government must come out with a time-bound action plan to carry forward the peace process to a logical conclusion.
  • In working out a solution to the problems in North Cachar Hills and Karbi Anglong, the Government must ascertain the views of all communities and groups, including women, who live in these districts, particularly on common issues. This will help the Government and the dialoguing groups to work out a lasting solution that addresses the hopes and aspirations of all the people living in the area.
  • Ceasefire between the militant groups and the Government has ushered in peace in North Cachar Hills and Karbi Anglong. The Government must ensure that a common yardstick is applied to all militant groups on the step-by-step approach to dialogue although solutions can be different. Applying different yardstick to different militant groups should be avoided, at least till the stage is set for working out a formula for solution to the problems.
  • Civil society groups in North Cachar Hills and Karbi Anglong should try and form a non-political common platform of all ethnic groups and other people in the districts which would work towards ethnic unity and common approach to progress and development of the area and its people.
  • Failure of the state to provide good governance has created a void that is being filled in by militant groups. Good governance, therefore, is of utmost importance.
  • Setting up of a liaison body of Autonomous Council members and civil society leaders to keep track of allocation and utilization of development funds in the districts. This can be a non-political monitoring and liaison mechanism between the Councils and the people.
  • Considering that development is the need of the hour in North Cachar Hills and Karbi Anglong, the village councils under the Autonomous District Councils must be activated to further decentralize power in the area.
  • Resolve to build a team of activists drawn from different committees and background to make maximum use of the Right to Information (RTI) Act to empower the common man to fight corruption. This will also help better utilization of funds.