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Shinde backs rural poll and Assam firing

New Delhi, Feb. 27: Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde today justified holding panchayat elections in the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council (RHAC) area and the police firing on “group of miscreants” in Goalpara district of Assam that killed 14 people.

“The security forces had to resort to firing to control the violence at six places. This resulted in deaths of 14 persons. Other seven persons died due to ethnic clashes,” he told a thinly attended Rajya Sabha this evening.

He said while eight districts went to the polls in Assam on February 12, the third and last phase, only in Goalpara was election disrupted “by a large group of miscreants” who attacked polling and security personnel. He added that the situation was now under control and the government would pay ex gratia of Rs 5 lakh to the next of kin of the firing victims.

The home minister, in fact, seemed to pat the state government for conducting the polls. “Despite the disruption of poll process, polling was completed successfully in 636 of the 807 polling stations that went to polls in the district,” he said.

Justifying the holding of panchayat polls in the Rabha Hasong council area, the home minister said since the council was under the state act, continuation of panchayati raj institutions in the area remained mandatory under constitutional provisions.

The Assam government had established the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council in 1995 through a state legislation, primarily for socio-economic, educational and cultural advancement of the Rabhas. However, the Rabhas have for long been demanding Sixth Schedule status and holding of council elections.

Shinde said the Rabhas were demanding council elections before panchayat polls but the state election commission decided to hold panchayat elections in February and elections to RHAC on April 30, since the council constituencies were awaiting delimitation and considering other logistical and law and order issues.

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who was here today, also justified the holding of panchayat elections in the Rabha Hasong council area. He told reporters that there was no provision in the RHAC Act for not holding panchayat elections in the area.

Shinde’s statement in the Rajya Sabha led to a virtual slanging match between the AGP and Congress MPs from Assam. AGP MPs Kumar Deepak Das and Birendra Prasad Baishya, whose efforts led to Shinde’s statement, accused the Assam government of “imposing elections” while Congress MPs Pankaj Bora and Bhubaneswar Kalita defended the holding of panchayat polls in the Rabha Hasong council area.