Peace pact with Meghalaya rebel outfit before cabinet: Official

Shillong, Feb 13: The union home ministry has referred the draft of the settlement agreement to be signed with Meghalaya’s rebel A’chik National Volunteers Council (ANVC) to the cabinet, a ministry official said Thursday.

“We have submitted the draft settlement agreement to be signed with the ANVC to the cabinet committee on political affairs (headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) for the final approval,” Shambhu Singh, joint secretary (northeast) in the home ministry, told IANS.

Once the cabinet panel give its sanction, the government will finalise the date for final signing of the peace accord with the ANVC, he said.

The ANVC, once a powerful rebel outfit in the five districts of Garo Hills in western Meghalaya, has scaled down its demand for creation of a separate Garoland state to an autonomous council. It signed the draft of the agreed settlement with the Meghalaya and union governments on Jan 5, 2013.

The outfit had demanded strengthened powers for the existing Garo Hills Autonomous District Council and increasing seats in the council from 30 to 40.

Of the 40 seats, the ANVC proposed that 35 members should be directly elected, while those to the remaining five – reserved for two ANVC members, two Nokmas and one woman – should be nominated.

Under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, Meghalaya has three district councils – for the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills – having powers on myriad issues such as forests, tax collection, and so on.

Chief Minister Mukul Sangma earlier asked the central government to consider an “acceptable tripartite accord” with the ANVC for lasting peace in the Garo Hills region.

ANVC spokesman Arist D. Sangma also said they want signing of the final tripartite peace accord “to be done as soon as possible” to ensure lasting peace in Garo Hills.

The Garo Hills region is being used as a safe haven by various northeast militant groups, including the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah, the United Liberation Front of Asom, and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland.

Another outlawed outfit, the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council, has been demanding a sovereign Khasi homeland in Meghalaya.