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Panel bins Himanta’s council stand

Guwahati, July 19: The Joint Committee for Autonomous and Development Councils of Assam today rejected cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s allegation that constitution of development councils was illegal.

Sarma had said this to mediapersons yesterday on the issue of change of guard in the Congress Legislature Party (CLP). He raised serious doubts over constitution of 18 development councils and six autonomous councils. He said constitution of such councils was illegal and unconstitutional.

Sources said Sarma made the statement in view of the reported visit of a section of office-bearers of the development councils to New Delhi ostensibly to back chief minister Tarun Gogoi before the Congress high command. Sarma, who holds health, education and Assam Accord implementation portfolios, is leading the dissidence in the CLP with the demand for a change of leadership.

The joint committee, which is an umbrella organisation of the autonomous and development councils, has expressed shock over Sarma’s statement and questioned how a “responsible cabinet minister could make such a statement” when he was himself a member of the cabinet committee on creation of development councils in 2008.

The development councils for Adivasi, Tai-Ahom, Moran, Muttock, Koch-Rajbongshi and Chutia communities were created by the Assam government following recommendations by a cabinet committee in 2008. The cabinet committee was headed by then minister of planning and development Prithibi Majhi.

“After 2008, the government had also created development councils for various other indigenous and ethnic communities. At present, Assam has 19 development councils and they are functioning as interim councils since 2010. The government has already made all arrangements to hold the first elections to these development councils this year. Under such circumstances, we simply do not understand as what led cabinet minister Sarma to make such irresponsible statement,” Dhiren Nath, joint secretary of the committee, told reporters here this morning.

Nath, who heads Nath Yogi Development Council, said all the 19 councils have been created through notifications by the governor of Assam. He admitted that a section of office-bearers of the development councils went to Delhi to meet Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in the first week of this month.

“Rahul Gandhi had shown a great deal of interest in functioning of the development councils during his visits to Assam in recent time. So, we went to Delhi to have more discussions with him on the role of the councils to meet aspirations of various smaller and indigenous communities. We did not go to meet Rahul Gandhi to discuss about dissidence and back the chief minister as reported in a section of the media,” Nath said.

The president of the joint committee, Kumud Kachari, alleged that by terming the autonomous and development councils illegal Sarma had actually tried to undermine socio-cultural and economic development of various indigenous communities living in the state since time immemorial.

“We want the state government to clarify the matter,” Kachari said. Nath said the role of development councils in all-round development of Assam is very crucial since the councils represent communities like Ahom, Tai-Ahom, Moran, Muttock, Koch-Rajbongshi, Chutia and other indigenous communities.

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