Monday, 28 July 2014

Government misuses the Khudiram Chakma case to deny rights to Chakmas

The Khudiram Chakma case has been the most unloved event of the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh. Rightly so, this case, is being misused against all the Chakmas by all concerned to deny them rights. However, there is nothing wrong in the case. This is just another case where the appellant Khudiram Chakma was, unfortunately, in the losing side. 

In fact, Khudiram Chakma was forced to file the petition before the Guwahati High Court seeking relief due to imminent threat of eviction. One of the reasons for losing the case was falsified generalized evidence brought before the court. It is important to know the factual matrix of the case for a proper understanding of the case. The brief history of the case is given hereunder: 

“In 1984, one Khudiram Chakma filed a petition in the Guwahati High Court following eviction order served by the State Government of Arunachal Pradesh from a land measuring one square mile donated to them by the Local Raja namely Nigrumong Singpho of Damba from his private land. After donation of the land, Khudiram Chakma and another 56 families by dint of hard labour developed the jungle area which was a hilly uneven tract of land and got tremendous agricultural success. This success was even acknowledged by the Tirap District authorities by way of granting two Rice Hullar Units in the name of Khudiram Chakma. The Chakmas transformed the land into a truly self-sufficient village. Further, in 1975, a village panchayat of Joypur village was formed after election of the members. Khudiram Chakma was appointed as the Gaon Bura of the village. This was with the approval of the Government, in token of which a sanad dated 20.11.1975 was issued in his name. The Deputy Commissioner at Khonsa approved the transfer of the land and the Extra Assistant Commissioner, Miao by his memorandum No.MR S (A) n5/8648-51 dated 26.4.1970 even issued instructions against any attempt to allot the land to other and generally against any eviction of the Chakma families from the said land. However, in view of prosperity and growth of land the nearby villagers sought to dislodge Khudiram Chakma and other Chakma families by raising various disputes and the government served eviction order. With no other option left, Khudiram Chakma filed the petition at the Guwahati High Court. He lost the case after the State government was able to bring to the notice of the High Court about the generalized and false complaints against the Chakmas including indulging in procuring arms and ammunition and associating with anti-social elements. Although Khudiram Chakma lost the case, the High Court directed the State Government to give adequate compensation in the event of the Chakmas being evicted from the place considering the hard work they invested on the land. Aggrieved with the order the State Government approached the Supreme Court where again Khudiram Chakma lost the case. But the Supreme Court directed that an opportunity be afforded to Khudiram Chakma and other families by the Chief Minister and grant them appropriate relief. It is not known what relief, if any, was given to these families. Gegong Apang, who recently joined the BJP, was the then Chief Minister.”

The Khudiram Chakma case is being used to deny rights to the Chakmas on the ground that Chakmas are refugees and foreigners and they are not eligible for any rights. The misuse of the case is clear from various official documents. It is very important to clarify on the status of the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh vis-à-vis the Kudiram Chakma case.

This so-called official position on the status of the Chakmas is no longer valid as noted by the Supreme Court of India in its landmark judgment in 1996 and the recent judgment of the Guwahati High Court in 2013. Vide order and judgment dated 9 January 1996 the Supreme Court in the case of NHRC Vs State of Arunachal Pradesh & Anr settled the issue for once and all with respect to the Khudiram Chakma case. The Supreme Court held that “The contention of the first respondent that the ruling of this Court in Khudiram Chakma’s case has foreclosed the consideration of the citizenship of Chakmas is misconceived.” The Supreme Court had clarified that the “issue of citizenship was raised in a narrower context and was limited to Section 6-A(2)” of the Citizenship Act, 1955 pursuant to the Assam Accord in the Khudiram Chakma case. The Supreme Court further noted that “the Chakmas in that case, who were resident in Arunachal Pradesh, could not avail of the benefit of Section 6A of the Act which is a special provision for the citizenship of persons covered by the Assam Accord.”

Further, vide judgment dated 19 March 2013, the Guwahati High Court while dismissing the PIL No. 52 of 2010 of the All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union challenging the additional guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India for revision of Electoral Rolls in Chakma inhabited areas in the State held that special laws like the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873 are not applicable to the Chakmas of Arunachal Pradesh. The relevant part of the observation of the High Court is reproduced below:

“Further, in view of the policy decision taken by the Government of India to settle the Chakma refugees in different States and also in Arunachal Pradesh in consultation with the authorities of the Arunachal Pradesh, and also to confer Indian citizenship, the contention of the petitioners that the aforesaid guidelines have the effect of violating the provisions of the law in terms of lack of Inner Line Permit or violation of provisions of Section 13 of the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 does not hold water. We are of the view that once a decision had been taken to settle these Chakma refugees in Arunachal Pradesh in consultation with the authorities of Arunachal Pradesh, they would become residents of Arunachal Pradesh and would not require the Inner Line Permit/Pass. Otherwise also, once they have been allowed to settle in Arunachal Pradesh, it would be deemed that such permits had been granted to them and in our considered opinion, any other view would negate and defeat the policy decision taken by the Government of India in consultation with the Arunachal Pradesh authorities to settle these Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh.”

It is pertinent to mention that the Government of India had settled the Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh under a “definite plan” of rehabilitation and not for temporary settlement as often claimed to deny them rights. Clearly, it is the policy decision of the government of India to settle the Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh. It is not the case that the Chakmas themselves went to the State and settled there of their own unlike many illegal immigrants from Bangladesh or elsewhere. This position is affirmed by the highest court of the country and the Guwahati High Court in the judgments noted above. Further, majority of the members of affected Chakma families are already citizens of India by virtue of being born in India and some of them have been exercising their right to franchise since 2004.

Note: Please visit to read the Khudiram Chakma case (Guwahati High Court & Supreme Court),  1996 judgment of the Supreme Court in NHRC Vs State of Arunachal Pradesh & Anr and 2013 judgment of the Guwahati High Court in PIL No. 52 of 2010 

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