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The peaceful state of Arunachal Pradesh in the last week of February was in the news for all the wrong reasons if it had to be put on the perspective of how the indigenous people of the state felt and witnessed. The vexed issue of grant of Permanent Residential Certificate (PRC) for some Non-APST (Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribe) communities who have been settled in the state for a long period of time, majority of them having been rehabilitated, post the devastating earthquake of 1950 by the civil administration after consultations with the local indigenous people. These communities included the Ahoms, Adivasis, Deories, Morans, Kacharis, Mishings and Ex-Servicemen settlers and basically concentrated in the districts of Changlang and Lohit.

However, after bifurcation of Lohit district and Namsai Sub-Division having been upgraded to a fully fledged district in 2015, the majority of these Non-APST communities demanding PRC primarily for pursuing higher studies outside the state and employment fell under the domain of the new district. These communities are mostly settled in Lekang circle of Namsai district which also forms the territorial limits of the 48- Lekang Assembly Constituency which had been represented by the present Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein for the last twenty-five years.

Till about a decade, the demand for PRC was discreet and there was no large scale protests in favor or against it, but then came politically vested individuals and groups who started drumming up the issue clearly marking the start of creating vote banks reaping on the sentiments of these people. It was in 2010 that the state government had through an Office Memorandum issued on 24 June 2010 as per the cabinet approval in a meeting held on 17 May 2010 approved for issue of PRC to Non-APSTs settled in Lohit and Changlang Districts prior to 1968 whose proper records were available with the administration. Subsequently, there was hue and cry by the indigenous populace of the state led by the student bodies which prompted the state government to revoke the earlier Office Memorandum vide its order No.193/2004 on 6 October 2010. Following this, there was a protest by the PRC demanding communities which indulged in vandalism at Namsai town and arson in the villages within Lekang circle inhabited by the Tai Khamti community. However, after the incident law and order was restored and peace prevailed only to erupt again prior to the 2014 elections. Again it was witnessed that some individuals and groups with vested political motives started beating the PRC drum again, though it did not succeed to gain much as it subsided on its own and the results showed people did not accept them trying to cash in on this issue.

It was sometime in mid-2018 that the demand for PRC gained momentum with protest rallies and bandh calls given by the organizations seeking the domicile certificate. Till 8 December 2018 there were no opposition protests by the indigenous people and organizations but the day, when the Chief Minister Pema Khandu announced that PRC would be given to the six non-APSTs communities and ex-servicemen settlers of Vijaynagar, a remote nondescript administrative circle lying close to the tri-junction of India, Myanmar, and China. The ex-servicemen were former personnel of the Assam Rifles and with land allotment documents which have surfaced ever since they were settled in the area during the early 70s solely for residential and agricultural purposes on a thirty-year lease which has been renewed once. After the announcement by Khandu that these communities will be given PRC as a New Year gift, the issue became more contentious with protests erupting from either side. The demanding party called for bandh, economic blockades and rallies pressing the state government to keep up the promise of the new year gift before the budget session scheduled in February and which was to be the last session of the sixth legislative assembly before its tenure ended while the indigenous people and organizations protested against the Chief Minister's announcement and demanding for rollback of the decision. This all happened while the Joint High Power Committee (JHPC) on PRC issue headed by state's Environment and Forests Minister Nabam Rebia was yet to conclude its consultations with stakeholders and submit its report.

Earlier, a cabinet sub-committee was constituted in 2008 headed by the then Home Minister and former Chief Minister Late Jarbom Gamlin to examine the issue of PRC to Nin-APSTs vide rode No.POL-193/2004/750 on 23 January 2008 which recommended that PRC be issued to these Non-APST people in Lohit and Changlang districts who were settled prior to quoi and in whose respect proper records were available with the administration. It also asked for detail family dossiers should be prepared and the eligible person's list and the record may be maintained. It noted that the issue of PRC shall not entitle these Non-APST communities to claim for Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribe (APST) status or claim any benefits or quota meant for APST people of the state. The cut off year was decided as 1968 as the cadastral survey was conducted in the Khamti Singpho area during 1967-68 and these Non-APST people possessed land dag numbers and chitah land documents.

Indrajit Tingwa

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