Electoral roll revision in Tripura refugee camps sparks protests

Agartala, Sep 24 (IANS) The Election Commission’s (EC) belated decision to conduct special summary revision of electoral lists in the seven refugee camps in northern Tripura triggered protests from youth organisations in Mizoram on Thursday.

The Young Mizo Association (YMA) and the Mizo Students Federation (MSF), the two most powerful youth bodies in Mizoram, on Thursday announced they will oppose the EC’s move.

Around 31,300 Reang tribals, who locally call themselves “Bru”, have been living in seven makeshift camps in northern Tripura for the past 18 years after they fled neighbouring Mizoram following ethnic troubles following the killing of a Mizo forest officer.

Following the Election Commission’s advice last month, almost all states in the country including Mizoram have undertaken a special summary revision of photo electoral rolls with January 1, 2016, as the qualifying date.

“The EC’s earlier decision (last month) to conduct special summary revision of photo electoral rolls did not include the refugees staying in Tripura camps. The EC last week ask the Mizoram election department to conduct the revision in the refugee camps (in Tripura) too,” Mizoram’s Joint Chief Electoral Officer F.J. Liantluanga told IANS.

“We have accordingly asked the deputy commissioners, who are also acting as District Electoral Officers (DEO) of Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei districts to take appropriate steps to execute the EC’s latest decision,” Liantluanga said.

The official said that those refugee voters and their descendants, recorded in the Mizoram’s voters’ lists in 1995, who would attain the age of 18 on January 1, 2016, would be enrolled by the DEOs after holding hearings in the refugee camps in Tripura.

After the poll panel’s instructions last month to carry out special summary revision of the electoral list of Mizoram, refugee leaders took up the matter with the EC, urging inclusion of the tribals sheltered in Tripura camps in the revised electoral lists.

Refugee leader Bruno Msha said the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum, the lone organisation of the refugees, in separate letters to the Election Commission and Mizoram election department urged that a special summary revision be conducted in seven relief camps as was done earlier.

“If the refugees remained out of the electoral list revision process, it would be a blatant violation of the fundamental rights of genuine Indian citizens,” Msha, general secretary of the MBDPF, had told IANS.

After the EC’s latest decision was made public, various organisations including YMA and MSF reacted sharply and announced their opposition to the move.

YMA general secretary Vanlalruata said that even Mizos from Mizoram, who were staying outside the state for various reasons, unless they came to the state during elections, were not allowed to cast votes and there was no reason to grant special scope to the refugees staying in camps in Tripura to exercise their franchise by postal ballots.

The MSF in a separate statement strongly opposed the EC’s latest decision saying that those refugees remaining in the Tripura camps and those who refused to return to the state despite several attempts by the Centre and the state governments must be excluded from the electoral lists.

“The EC has been giving undue favour to a particular community,” the MSF statement said, adding that the students’ body would oppose any move to implement the instruction of the EC.

Earlier, Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla and various political parties of the state had demanded that the Reang tribals, who had refused to return to Mizoram despite a series of attempts to repatriate them, should be excluded from the voters’ list.

The Tripura government has been asking the Centre and Mizoram government to take back the refugees to their home state at the earliest as serious socio-economic and law and order problems have cropped up in the state.

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