Dialogue  October - December, 2000 , Volume 2  No. 2

Peace and Development in Tripura: Problems and Prospects
J.B. Ganguly

The concept of development needs to be broadly defined as the social and economic development of the people of Tripura. This is a process. It is manifested in the development of the human resource as the most crucial and determining factor of social and economic growth of any territorial unit. Human resource is developed by providing opportunities for acquiring literacy and educational attainments, training facilities for learning new and higher skills and introduction of higher and appropriate technology of production in all sectors of the economy for raising labour productivity all-around. Human resource development also entails ensuring access to health care facilities for all sections of the population.

Human resource development need to be matched by the development of the physical infrastructure, such as, roads and other means of transport, communication, power supply, irrigation and safe drinking water supply systems, besides a dependable and affordable credit supply arrangement particularly at the micro level. At Tripura's level of social and economic development, right from the beginning of the planning era in 1950-51, the state had to depend on liberal flow of investable resources form the centre for development of infrastructure as well as the social sector comprising educational and health-care services.

Human development needs a peaceful environment, democratic milieu and decentralization of the decision-making process to ensure people's participation at the grassroots level. The participatory approach to plan the process of development must have an in-built preference for creation of employment opportunities in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors.

Even as the process of social and economic development in Tripura was not very satisfactory on account of several reasons including inadequacy of investable resources and the explosive growth of population mainly on account of population migration from across the border, it is being severely impeded by the emergence of ethnic insurgency, violence and secessionist movements vitiating the process of democratic functioning of the different organs and departments including those directly involved with developmental activities. The rise of insurgency has been ;also disturbing the mode of people's participation in the development process. Tripura is now involved in severe vicious circle: slow process of development is partly contributing to the rise of insurgency and disturbance of peace which in turn is further slowing down the process of development.

Ethnic Insurgency: The Present Scenario
The flames of ethnic riots engulfed Tripura for the first time in June, 1980. The fraternal killings, arson, looting and destruction of properties was preceded by the birth of the Tripura National Volunteers (TNV) which was formed by the members who broke away from the Tripura Upajati Juba Sarnitee (TUJS) by expressing their distrust of the country's political systems and the State Government in upholding the interests of the indigenous tribal population. They professed adoption of violent means to secure tribal rights in land, to drive out Bengaii immigrants and even to establish an independent sovereign Tripura.

This development was somewhat matched by the rise of Amara Bangaii as a political outfit which was opposed to the restoration of alienated tribal land and the creation of the Autonomous District Council.

Growing strength of the TNV signalled the rise of extremist and secessionist forces in Tripura, which aligned themselves with similar organizations in other parts of North-East India.

Compared to these extremist forces Amara Bangaii was a virtually ineffective organization without any appreciable support of the Bengali community as their electoral reverses amply confirm.

However, the environment of extremism, secessionism and ethic hatred, distrust and killings continued to disturb peace and inter-ethnic amity until 1988 when Rajiv Gandhi - Bijoy Hrangkhawl agreement was reached and a memorandum of understanding was signed on 12 August, 1988 in New Delhi by Bijoy Hrangkhawl and five other members of TNV and the Addi. Secretary to the Government of India and the Chief Secretary of Tripura in the presence of the Governor and the Chief Minister of Tripura. This was followed by the surrender of TNV activists with their arms and adoption of measures for rehabilitating the surrendered extremists.

After 1988 and until the middle of 1992 Tripura was relatively free from any insurgent activity. But the situation became again charged with extremist violence with the appearance of the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) as a new insurgent outfit in that year. Since then extortions of money ('taxes'), kidnappings for ransom and killings by attacking the soft targets such as passengers travelling by bus, jeep and other vehicles, helpless poor villagers, traders and others have been persistently being perpetrated by the insurgent outfits. Even the tribais suspected to be opposed to their views and actions are killed by the militants.

The situation became so much disturbing and uncontrollable within normal operation of law and order maintaining authorities that in February 1998 twenty-two police station areas were declared 'disturbed' areas. Later five more police station areas were added to the list. One army battalion, four battalions of Assam Rifles, eight of CRFIF and five of TSR have been deployed in suppressing insurgencey in the state but without any decisive impact as yet. The state Government has therefore been repeatedly asking for additional forces from the Centre.

The two main insurgent outfits, namely, the ATTF and the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) were outlawed on 29 Mach 1997 by the Central Government. But there are a dozen other small insurgent groups operating as the fringe groups of the two outlawed outfits. These are: Tripura Tribal Youth Force, Tribal Commando Force, Social Democratic Force of Tripura, Tripura National "Sankrak" Force, All Tripura Volunteer Force, Tripura Defence Force, National Militia of Tripura, Independent Tripura Flolice Force, Tribal National Force, Tripura Armed Tribal Commando Force and the Tripura Tribal Volunteers. These groups have been also indulging in extorting, terrorising, abducting and killing of people.'

While the State Government puts the combined strength of the ATTF and NLFT at over 500. The Central Intelligence agencies estimate the total number of insurgents in the state at around 900. Many of them are armed with sophisticated lethal weapons.

"A total of 1,254 people including Government staff, teachers, engineers, doctors, businessmen, contractors, tea garden owners and managers, politicians, workers and villagers were abducted by the rebels between April 1995 and December 1998." Of them 105 were killed in rebel custody and 1,149 subsequently released on payment of ransom"9

Crippling effects of Insurgency on Development
Buses. Jeeps, trucks and other vehicles plying on the national and state highways are being frequently attacked, passengers being robbed, kidnapped and even killed and goods from transport carriers looted. These events have been severely affecting movements of persons and goods within the state as well as between other places and the state. Costs of transporting goods have become much higher causing prices of essential commodities to rise and the functioning of the public distribution system difficult. Growth of rural productive activities have been slowing down.

Construction activities and development of basic infrastructure are nearly deadlocked. In such disturbed conditions overseeing of progress of utilization of financial grants for development projects is seriously jeopardised. This has been resulting in a marked rise in the cases of misutilization of planned resources and that of different forms of corruption.

Development of forest resources and the growing stock of forest wealth were one of the success stories of Tripura's development planning. But the rise in lawlessness on account of insurgent violence has been resulting in growing incidence of plundering, smuggling and illegal felling of forest trees.

Functioning of the Oil and Natural Gas Commission and the State Power Sector is also severely curtailed.

But the most damaging long-run ruinous consequences of insurgency relate to the education and health sectors - the most crucial ones for the development and qualitative improvement of human resource. Recently Tripura's Education Minister told the State Assembly that a total of 1,671 Junior basic schools, 278 senior basic schools, 131 high and 48 higher secondary schools in the state were being run without any headmaster or assistant headmaster. Over 223 junior basic schools, he further stated, were now being managed by a single teacher and 331 schools were being run by two teachers.

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