Rabha forum invokes accord

Dhubri/Guwahati, Jan. 25: The Rabha Hasong Joint Movement Forum today gave a new twist to its stand on panchayat polls in the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council area by accusing Dispur of violating Clause 5 of the 1995 accord signed between Dispur, All Rabha Students' Union and Rabha Hasong Demand Committee.

So far they had been demanding that the panchayat polls be held after elections to the autonomous council. They have also gone on record to point out that functions of both the panchayat and the council were by and large similar without, however, categorically stating that panchayat was not required.

Clause 5 of the accord states that the provisions of the Assam Panchayati Raj Act, 1994, and Assam Municipality Act 1994 (amended) shall not apply to the Rabha Hasong autonomous council area, a source in the forum said.

Arsu vice-president Jiban Rabha, while opposing the panchayat poll in the council area, said the government was not only dishonouring the accord but also acting against it.

"The government must come clean on the violation of the clause. We will not sit idle and watch polling being held in the council area. We will intensify our movement and disrupt the election as this poll goes against the community's political and economic interests," Rabha warned.

Reacting to the allegation, minister for welfare of plains tribes and backward classes Rajiv Lochan Pegu wondered why it took the Rabha groups so long to point out this lapse.

"After the accord, there was the Council Act, which has been amended several times. Why didn't they point it out during discussions with the government and get it rectified? If you carefully go through their demands, you will see that the Rabha groups are not against panchayat election. They only want it after the Rabha council election. Still we appeal to them to join the election process," Pegu told The Telegraph.

He said the government wanted both the polls to go ahead as scheduled by the state election commission.

Sources in the state election commission said "no accord or act" was above the Constitution.

"Article 243 clearly states that panchayat election will be held in all areas except those falling under the Sixth Schedule. If the accord/act says there cannot be panchayat election, then there is a major flaw. But holding the rural poll is a constitutional obligation," one of the sources said.

The Prithibi Majhi cabinet sub-committee, of which Pegu is a member, had yesterday backed the state election commission's decision to hold both the polls as scheduled. Panchayat poll is slated for February 12 while the council poll has been scheduled for April 30.

Sources said nominations for 95 per cent of the panchayat seats had been filed, which reflected that most people in the council area, covering south Kamrup and Goalpara districts, wanted the election to go ahead as scheduled. "We have two options: hear the voice of 95 per cent or go with the five per cent against the poll," an official said.

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