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Protests to hit orange farmers

Guwahati, Jan. 15: Non-Rabha organisations in Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council (RHAC) area, covering Kamrup and Goalpara districts, today expressed fear that the tension arising out of the ensuing panchayat elections would affect the economic condition of nearly two lakh Garo orange growers.

“This is the season of oranges and Garo villages situated in the hills in Kamrup district sell the fruits, worth about Rs 20 crore, every year. Orange sales are on in full swing in the markets at Boko, Chaygaon, Dudhnoi, Bamungaon and other places. If the economic blockade and bandh programmes announced by the Rabha organisations start tomorrow, the villagers will be unable to bring their produce to the markets. Oranges have already ripened and we fear that the growers will suffer a loss of about Rs 4 crore,” chief convener of Ajanajati-Garo Sanmilita Sangram Samiti, an umbrella organisation of Garos and non-tribals, Chandan Keshab said.

Tension started mounting in the council area after dates for panchayat elections — beginning January 30 — were announced. Elections are scheduled to be held in the council areas on February 12.

The Rabha Hasong Joint Movement Committee, an umbrella organisation of 34 organisations, including Rabhas, has declared a series of agitations including national highway blockade from Wednesday to Friday. This will be followed by a 48-hour bandh from January 21 to 23, economic blockade in the RHAC area from January 24 to 27 and blockade of Kamakhya-Jogighopa railway tracks from January 28 to 31, among others.

The committee is also against panchayat polls and has, instead, been demanding inclusion of the RHAC in the Sixth Schedule.

The non-Rabha organisations, however, have been opposing it and are seeking exclusion of villages with less than 50 per cent Rabha population from the council areas before holding panchayat elections .

Benedict Areng, a Garo leader, said tension was brewing in the area and the economic blockade would affect around two lakh Garo villagers.