Who are the Bru Refugees and What is the Agreement to Settle Them in Tripura?

BRU REFUGEES
Bru refugees will now be properly settled in a newly announced government scheme after two decades of displacement. Image:Twitter

It was twenty-three years ago that clashes broke out in Mizoram that compelled more than 37,000 people of the Bru community to leave behind their homes and flee to the neighbouring state of Tripura.  They are an indigenous ethnic community found in Northeast India especially in Tripura, Mizoram and Assam. In the state of Tripura, they are recognised as a vulnerable community.More than two decades ago, they were targeted by groups in Mizoram who demanded that the Bru leave the state and be excluded from the state’s electoral rolls. In 1977 severe ethnic clashes erupted between the Bru community and the Mizo population, and 37,000 Bru people fled Mizoram and settled in Tripura. In Tripura they were sheltered in relief camps.Since then, more than 5,000 people from the Bru community have come back to Mizoram in the nine subsequent phases of repatriation, but more than 32,000 people continue to stay in six relief camps of northern Tripura.

But now, an agreement has been signed that allows them to gain a permanent residence in Tripura. The agreement has been signed between leaders of the Bru community and the governments of India, Tripura and Mizoram. The agreement was signed on January 16 and it allows the Bru community to choose either of the states as their residence. It is important to understand that the agreement holds critical importance for the fate of the Bru community that had faced internal displacement over two decades ago. Bru people presently inhabit makeshift camps in Tripura, but after the agreement they would be settled by the state if they wish to continue staying. The Bru who returned back to Mizoram in the eight phases of repatriation since 2009 are however not allowed to come back to Tripura.

In order to ascertain the exact strength of the population that has to see settled in Tripura, a fresh new survey and physical verification of the Bru families living in the relief camps of Tripura will be conducted. The Centre has also announced its plans for beginning a new development project for the resettled Bru population, this is in addition to the Rs 600 crore fund announced for the process, including several benefits for the migrant population residing in the state.

Every family that is resettled in the state of Tripura will get 0.03 acre of land for the construction of a home, Rs 1.5 lakh as using assistance and Rs 4 lakh as a one-time cash benefit for the purpose of sustenance. The resettled Bru population is also entitled to a monthly allowance if Rs 5,000 and free rations for the coming two years from the date of resettlement.

The cash assistance that is being offered to people from the resettled Bru community will be done through Direct Cash Transfer and the state government would expedite the process of opening bank accounts and issuing of Aadhaar. They will also be helped in attaining other important documents such as permanent residence certificates, ST certificates, voter identity cards etc.  It is estimated that the physical verification and estimation of the number of Bru people will be conducted within the first two weeks of the signing of the deal. The land for resettlement will be identified within two months and the land meant for allotment will be identified within 150 days.

Among a host of other benefits, the beneficiaries of the project would have the state government build and hand over homes to them. The temporary camps in which they are presently staying will be closed down within 180 days as they shift to their newly constructed residences. All the houses will be constructed within this framework and all the necessary payments will also be made within this time framework only. CM of Tripura Biplab Kumar Deb has assured that the project would be completed as soon as possible, most probably within the upcoming six months. He also said that since Tripura is a small state, the government will have to make attempts to divert forest land and even forest reserve areas if necessary, to grant the entitlements. This diversion of forest land for settlement of human population however requires the clearance of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, which will in all likelihood not take less than a period of three months to do so. He also expressed that the government at the centre had promised to assist them with finances as far as getting forest or government land for the purposes of resettlement is concerned.

Home Minister Amit Shah had presided over the signing of the agreement. He hailed the agreement to be “historic” in terms of arriving at a settlement to the Bru crisis that had been going on for decades.

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