On September 20, 2020 a meeting was held at the residence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi, where one of the key topics of discussion was the next steps to be taken with respect to the Clause 6 committee report.
In February 2020, the Clause 6 Committee constituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had submitted a slew of recommendations pertaining to Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards for the interests and culture of Assamese people. The 14-member high-powered Committee had been constituted in July 2019 and had been given six months to submit its report, which it did just days before the deadline.
This Report of the Committee on Implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord was however not made public at that time. Then, six months later, some members of the panel including Arunachal Pradesh Advocate General Nilay Dutta and three members of the All Assam Students Union (AASU) released the report independently.
As per the report, what is key to the Committee’s recommendations is a series of amendments to Article 371 B. The report says, “The Committee is of the opinion that to give full effect to its Recommendations, as stated hereinbelow, several Constitutional and legislative amendments will be necessitated. The existing Article 371-B in the Constitution of India will need to be amended.”
The meeting on September 20, was attended by Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, State minister and North Eastern Democratic Alliance (NEDA) convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma, Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Joint Secretary (North-east) Satyendra Garg, and Assam Chief Secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna, among others. They discussed the future course of action on implementation of the Clause 6 report, grant of Scheduled Tribe status to six communities, implementation of the Bodo Accord and the vital NRC issue, among others.
Speaking to media persons after the meeting, Himanta Biswa Sarma said that since the Clause 6 Committee Report has contents that may require legal amendments, the Union Home Minister has instructed the Chief Minister that the State government should have the report examined by legal experts and determine if there is any need for amendments, and then advise the Centre accordingly.
“The Home Minister does not want the report with legal defects which then may have to be sent back to the State. He wants that the committee’s report should be examined by Constitutional experts so as to ensure that there are no legal lacunae. In future, if the report is stalled because of legal lacunae a wrong signal will go to the people of Assam,” said Sarma.
However, here arises an interesting question. The Committee on implementation of Clause 6 of Assam Accord comprised legal experts like Biplab Kumar Sharma (former Judge, Gauhati High court), Ramesh Barpatragohain (Advocate General of Assam), Nilay Dutta (Advocate General of Arunachal Pradesh), Shantanu Bharali (Legal Advisor to the Chief Minister of Assam) among others.
If the recommendation of such esteemed legal experts requires another round of review, then what was the necessity for inclusion of such legal experts to the committee in the first place? It is alleged that this review is simply an eye wash to placate Bengali Hindus, the core support base of BJP as they have revolted against the report.
Responding to this, Dr Akhil Ranjan Dutta, Head of the Department, Political Science, Gauhati University, said, “For me the suggestion given by the Union Home Minister to Assam Chief Minister to get the Clause 6 Committee Report 2020 examined by legal experts is rather ironic. The Report has been prepared by a Committee where there are two Advocate Generals of two state governments apart from a High Court Justice (Rtd.) as the Chairperson. Now, how do the legal experts nominated by the State Government examine it? Will it be examined by Constitutional experts? If it is by Constitutional Experts then it is a bit reasonable as they may bring in questions like how do reservations of various kinds up to 80% based on 1951 as the cut off year even for recruitment in the private sector conform to the very premises of universal citizenship.”
Dr Dutta added, “But, more important is the sustainability of the propositions in political and social terms? Will these propositions of reservation up to 80% in all representational bodies contribute towards social harmony and peace that propose to deprive the streams of citizens and their descendants of the period between 1951-71 from constitutional and other safeguards? I am raising these questions for debates and discussions. I am neither endorsing nor rejecting the proposals.”