The Bru refugees in Tripura have again demanded polling stations in relief camps for the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls on April 11 but Election Commission of India officials said such a provision is not on the cards.
Over 30,000 Bru refugees have been living in six relief camps at Kanchanpur in North Tripura district, more than 180 kilometres from Agartala. Around 37,000 Bru people had taken shelter at Kanchanpur in 1997 after a clash with majority Mizos.
In the run-up to the Assembly polls in November 2018, speculation was rife on whether polling stations would be set up near the relief camps or, the Brus would be required to travel to Mizoram to cast their vote. As protests by political parties and NGOs erupted and the demand for the latter grew louder, the ECI was forced to transfer the then Chief Electoral Officer SB Shashank. It decided to set up polling booths in Kanhmun in Mizoram’s Mamit district on the border with Tripura.
“We have requested the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to suggest booths inside our camps to ECI so that all of us can vote. During the assembly polls, the poll percentage was low because many elderly people and women could not travel to Kanhmun,” said Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples’ Forum (MBDPF)’s general secretary Bruno Msha, on the letter sent to Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba on March 15.
“It is likely that a similar arrangement will be made this time. We are waiting for a final word from the ECI,” said Ashish Kundra, Chief Electoral Officer, Mizoram. “The turnout in Kanhmun was good. Around 60% of Brus voted,” he said.
Meanwhile, NGOs in Mizoram are adamant that no special arrangement be made for Brus. “Why should there be any special arrangement for them? Why can’t they come to Mizoram and vote at their respective polling stations like everyone else?” demanded Vanlal Ruata, chief of the Young Mizo Association.
In July 2018, the MHA announced it signed a repatriation agreement with MBDPF and two state governments of Tripura and Mizoram.
However, according to officials, only 800 Brus belonging to 126 families have been repatriated since. Around 7000 Brus have returned to Mizoram in eight phases of repatriation since 1997, according to the Tripura Police. But the remaining refugees are reluctant to do so, fearing for their safety and because they feel that their requirement of land in Mizoram has not been met by the agreement.
Mar 17, 2019 01:45 IST