Agartala/Aizawl, March 30: Despite opposition in Mizoram against allowing tribal refugees in Tripura’s relief camps to cast postal ballots, the Election Commission (EC) is firm on its decision, officials said Sunday.
Of the over 36,000 Reang tribal refugees, known as “Bru”, living in the Kanchanpur and Panisagar refugee camps of Tripura for the past 17 years, about 11,500 are listed in Mizoram’s electoral rolls.
These refugees have been casting votes for the Mizoram assembly and Lok Sabha elections through postal ballots.
“The Election Commission has appointed seven observers to oversee the voting of the tribal refugees from April 1 to April 3 in seven relief camps,” Tripura Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Asutosh Jindal told reporters in Agartala.
He said the EC observers have already arrived in Tripura and visited the refugee camps in north Tripura, 190 km north of Agartala.
Voting for Mizoram’s lone Lok Sabha seat will be held April 9.
Five NGOs and youth organisations, led by the Young Mizo Association, organised protest rallies in Aizawl and other places of Mizoram last week demanding that the poll panel revoke its decision.
“We have sent a memorandum to the Election Commission conveying our protest… But it is yet to respond to it… We will continue our protest,” said Lalhmachhuana, president of Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) and member of the coordination committee of the five NGOs and youth bodies.
The NGOs also demanded that all refugees be sent back to their Mizoram villages before the Lok Sabha poll. They added that the names of those refusing to return be deleted from the electoral rolls.
Lalhmachhuana told reporters the refugees left Mizoram of their own will (in 1997 and later in 2009) and showed wrong reasons for not returning despite several repatriation programmes undertaken by the state government.
The tribals fled after ethnic clashes with the majority Mizos over the killing of a Mizo forest official.
About 5,000 refugees returned to their homes in the past three-and-half years following continued persuasion by Mizoram, Tripura and union home ministry officials. The process got stalled after that with many refusing to return unless their security is guaranteed.
Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla earlier this month urged Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath not to allow the refugees to vote through postal ballots.
Jindal, the Tripura CEO said: “Like on previous occasions, the EC has decided to take the votes of the refugees in the relief camps in north Tripura through postal ballots.”
“At least one facilitation centre would be set up in each of the seven camps during the first week of April so that the eligible refugees could cast their votes,” he said.
Earlier this month, the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), an organisation of the refugees, asked the EC to conduct polling in the camps.
The MBDPF had complained to the poll panel that many eligible voters in the camps were not included in the voters’ lists of Mizoram.
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar has told both the prime minister and the union home minister on a number of occasions that “continuous presence of refugees from Mizoram for over 17 years has been a matter of concern for Tripura”.
The refugees have been insisting that without a formal agreement between the central government, the two state governments and the tribal leaders, their return and rehabilitation will remain uncertain.