The Central government affidavit stating that it was giving one t-shirt and a pant, and one bathing soap to each Bru (Reang tribes) refugees per year in Tripura came under severe criticism from the Supreme Court which remarked that such policy was forcing the displaced people to live a "horrible life."
About 35,000 Bru tribals are staying in six relief camps in Kanchanpur and Panisagar, Tripura for about 17 years after they fled their villages in Mizoram following ethnic troubles which began in October 1997.
A social justice bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur was particularly shocked at an excerpt from the affidavit filed by the ministry of home affairs (MHA) which stated that, “Efforts now on creating additional facilities in the camp life would only incentivize the Brus to their camp life in Tripura and shift the focus away from rehabilitation in Mizoram to relief measures in the refugee camps.”
Terming the affidavit as “disturbing” the bench which also compromise of Justice Uday Umesh Lalit said, “Is this how you treat people of this country. The government cannot say ‘I don’t want to improve the condition in the camp, because if it is done they will never leave’. Can you say, tomorrow I am going to throw them in gutter.”
The SC observation came while hearing public interest litigations (PILs) filed in 2005 by Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and another in 2007 by Asian Indigenous & Tribal People's, both voluntary organisation working for the welfare of the tribals
In the affidavit, the MHA said it was making concerted efforts in close coordination with the state government of both Mizoram and Tripura to bring the Bru (Reane tribes) refugees back to their native state. It also claimed that 1210 Reang families with over 5,000 members have gone back to Mizoram as part of the repatriation programme.
While the MHA said it had released about Rs 231 crores to Tripura government and Rs 35 crores to Mizoram government as grant-in-aid for the refugees, the SC said if the number was worked out for the 17 years duration it comes to an amount less than one lakh rupee per refugee per year.
Other measures taken by the MHA such as providing one bathing soap per head once in a year, one t-shirt and one pant piece per adult per year, one mosquito net and blanket per family once in three years attracted the SC’s ire.
The apex court directed the Centre, in consultation with the two states, to file a proper affidavit in four weeks giving a time-bound action plan for the rehabilitation of the displaced tribes. It said the plan should not be "unilateral" and all stake holders including the chief secretaries of the two states must be consulted.
The next date of hearing in the case is February 27.
The Tripura High Court is also seized of a public interest litigation (PIL) on deplorable conditions of Bru refugees in the relief camps.
The petition filed by one Anuradha Debbarma said the Bru community was one of the poorest communities of the area and “probably the most economically, socially backward community in Mizoram.” The PIL contended that the displaced Bru communities in these refugee camps “are not being treated like human beings.”
In May 2014, while hearing the PIL, the Tripura HC had directed the MHA to constitute a seven-member committee to ascertain the condition of the relief camps and submit a report.
Pursuant to the order, a committee headed by Rajiv Gauba, additional secretary in MHA, had submitted its report to the Tripura HC in which it stated: “based on the inspection conducted by the team it is felt that there is definitely need for improvement.”
It had also remarked that that cash dole of Rs 5 per day per adult given by the MHA “appear to be inadequate.” Relief is provided to the migrant families in kind such as rice, salt, and in cash for daily requirements.
The committee had also pointed out complaints by several migrants person that the repatriated families lacked suitable means of livelihood due to which some of them have subsequently returned to relief camps in Tripura.
It had recommended that for a successful repatriation process a revised rehabilitation package was needed. “More than the amount of one time compensation etc, the most crucial element of a successful rehabilitation package would have to be provision of a suitable livelihood.’
The committee had also said that the Mizoram government needed to ensure arrangement for instilling a sense of security among the resettled Bru families.
The hearing in the Tripura HC is fixed for February 9 next.