Faced with protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, the BJP-led government in Assam on Saturday announced a number of feel-good decisions to safeguard the language and land rights of the indigenous people. Addressing the media, state finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that a bill will be tabled in the next Assembly session to stop the transfer of their land to outsiders.
"The state Cabinet has decided to bring a new Bill in the next Assembly session securing the rights of the indigenous people. Under this Bill, indigenous people can sell their land only to indigenous people," Sarma said.
As per the new bill, only an indigenous person will be able to sell or buy land from another indigenous citizen.
The cabinet also resolved to urge the centre to amend Article 345 so as to make Assamese the state language. However, it allows for Barak Valley, Bodoland Territorial Administration Districts (BTAD) region and other hill districts with their own second languages to be exempted from this.
"All Indian states were originally reorganised on the basis of language. Subsequently, due to migration, the number of the people speaking the language of a state may vary. However, it is important to keep the language on the basis of which the state was created," he added.
Himanta Biswa Sarma said that the government is also planning to make Assamese language a compulsory subject till Class 10 in all schools.
He further announced that the government will also create three new autonomous councils – Kamatapur Autonomous Council for the Koch Rajbongshis, Moran Autonomous Council and Muttock Autonomous Council – which will be activated by May. The State government will also request the Centre to grant constitutional status to the autonomous councils so that they receive central grants as well. The CEMs (chief executive members) of the autonomous councils will be the ex officio members of the Sub Divisional Land Advisory Councils.
Apart from this, the Sonowal cabinet also decided to increase the wages of the labourers of Assam Tea Corporation from Rs 137 to Rs 167 per day in Brahmaputra Valley, and from Rs 115 to Rs 145 per day in Barak Valley — the changes will be implemented from January 1, 2020.
The decision came amid protests against the contentious new citizenship law, which the protesters claim violates the Assam Accord of 1985 and have deemed it a threat to the language, culture, demographics and economic well-being of the indigenous population of Assam.