NEW DELHI, Feb 29 - With election round the corner, the Centre on Monday acted decisively to accord Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the six communities and constituted a high-powered committee to look into their demand.
In a related development, a delegation of ULFA led by its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and general secretary Anup Chetia met Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi in his North Block office today. The ULFA delegation was scheduled to hold an official-level tripartite meeting with the Home Secretary on March 2, but it has now been postponed till mid-March.
The meeting was probably postponed because of the possibility of the announcement of Assembly election, said a ULFA leader, who attended the talks.
It was decided that the formal tripartite meeting of the ULFA leaders with the Home Secretary and representatives of the Government of Assam will be held in the middle of March, official sources said.
Sources said that the Centre had preliminary discussions today, when it informed the ULFA leaders about constitution of a special committee to deal with the demand of the six communities and also explained the Centre�s position. ST status for the six communities is among the prime demands of the pro-talk faction of ULFA, a demand that has been rejected by the Tribal Affairs Ministry six times.
Sources said that though the ULFA leaders are keen on signing the Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) before the Assembly polls, but it appears difficult because of the intricacies involved.
In a related development, the Centre on Monday announced its plans to constitute a committee to consider the demand of the six communities and report back within a specific timeframe.
A delegation led by Union Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, Sarbananda Sonowal and comprising BJP MPs, besides Himanta Biswa Sarma and a 20-member delegation representing the six communities called on Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju was also present at the meeting.
The Home Minister in a significant move decided to take over the issue of the six communities from the Tribal Affairs Ministry.
Later, talking to this newspaper, Sarbananda Sonowal said that a committee headed by Special Secretary (Internal Security) as been constituted, which will submit its report by May 30. The committee will look into all aspects of the issue of granting ST status to the six communities, including drafting of the modalities.
Clarifying, he said that the modalities would pave the way for declaration of ST status to the six communities. The six communities include Moran, Motok, Chutia, Koch Rajbongshi, tea tribe and Ahoms.
As hundreds of communities are currently demanding ST status, that is why the Centre has decided to exclusively take up the case of Assam to pave the way for a lasting solution of the problem, Sonowal said.
Sonowal further clarified that the development today has nothing to do with the elections, as the demand is a long-pending one. That is why the Home Minister in a positive step decided to act, and it will lead to a fruitful solution of the problem.
Later, talking to newsmen Rijiju said that granting ST status was BJP�s political promise and the BJP- led NDA Government will grant ST to these communities. It will also change the modalities necessary for the status, if need be.
He further said that the Centre will take three months to grant them ST status. Now the matter will be looked after by the Home Minister and not the Tribal Affairs ministry. A notification in this regard will be published tomorrow, informed Kiren Rijiju.