The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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EC for refugee solution

New Delhi, Feb. 1: The Election Commission has approached the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for a “political solution” to the dispute over electoral rights to the Chakma and Hajong refugees in Arunachal Pradesh.

An official source confirmed the move, but said the Election Commission’s stand on the subject remains unchanged. “The refugees need to be enrolled as voters. We have no doubts on this.”

In an unprecedented directive on January 2, the poll panel asked the Arunachal Pradesh government to suspend electoral activity in the four Assembly constituencies of Doimukh, Chowkham, Bordumsa and Miao till such time the dispute is resolved. Chakmas and Hajongs constitute a big chunk of the population there.

Arunachal Pradesh, however, opposes the idea of granting voting rights to the settlers, arguing that they are a threat to the state’s indigenous population.

The Election Commission wrote to the state government last year, saying the names of all these refugees should be immediately included in the electoral rolls in accordance with a 1996 judgment of the Supreme Court.

The source said it was “rare” for the Election Commission to seek the PMO’s intervention in such a dispute.

“The situation is such that we had to do it. The Arunachal Pradesh government has taken a very aggressive stance, saying it will not allow the refugees to be included in the electoral rolls. But with elections approaching, a decision will have to be taken fast to avoid a crisis.”

Successive governments in Arunachal Pradesh have backed the campaign against the Chakma and Hajong refugees. The oft-cited reason is that the social balance of the state will be disrupted if the two tribes — spread across Changlang, Lohit and Papum Pare districts — are granted the right to vote.

A six-member delegation of ministers and members of political parties is in the capital to lobby against the Election Commission’s directive. The team has already met Union minister of state for home Swami Chinmayanand, BJP vice-president Pyarelal Khandelwal and chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh.

The delegation claims the Election Commission’s “assumption” about the refugees’ rights is based on “a superficial reading” of the judgments of the apex and high courts.

“The Supreme Court had said that protection should be given to the refugees and not citizenship. It only said that their application should be considered for inclusion in the national register,” home minister . Wanglat said.

He said referring the dispute to the PMO was the right thing. “Now that it has been referred to the PMO, the commission expects a settlement soon. But whatever be the decision, the refugees cannot be allowed to vote. Even the law ministry is in favour of a political settlement.”

There have been three court judgments on the dispute. Arunachal Pradesh BJP general secretary Khiren Rijiju said the contrasting judgments had added to the confusion.

Gauhati High Court ruled against granting citizenship to the refugees, but Delhi High Court said they should be included in the electoral rolls.

There are approximately 65,000 Chakma and Hajong refugees in Arunachal Pradesh. These tribals migrated from the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh in the early Sixties after being displaced by the Kaptai dam. Mizoram and Tripura are the other two northeastern states that have a Chakma population. The tribe has been granted the right to vote in elections in these two states.

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