The Centre on Wednesday decided to set up a high-level committee to recommend how to provide constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards to the indigenous people of Assam, including by reserving seats in the state Assembly.
The decision has been taken at a meeting of the Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Addressing a press conference, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the decision has been taken according to the Assam Accord signed in 1985 which envisaged that appropriate constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.
"The committee will hold discussions with all stakeholders and assess the required quantum of reservation of seats in the Assam Legislative Assembly and local bodies for Assamese people," he said.
The home minister said the panel will also assess the requirement of measures to be taken to protect Assamese and other indigenous languages of the state, quantum of reservation in employment under the Government of Assam and other measures to protect, preserve and promote cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of Assamese people.
"It was a very significant decision for the promotion and protection of cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of Assamese people," he said.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal welcomed the Union cabinet's decision saying it was a historical step for the protection of the indigenous people of the state.
"This is for the first time in 35 years that the central government has taken a significant step for the implementation of the Assam Accord," he said in a statement.
In Guwahati, Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharya, the chief advisor of All Assam Students Union (AASU), which was a signatory to the Accord, termed the decision an attempt to "assuage the feelings of the Assamese community which was hurt due to the move to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955.
The bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, for granting Indian nationality to people belonging to minority communities -- Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians -- in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of residence in India instead of 12, even if they don't possess any proper document.
The AASU and other socio-political organisations of the northeast have vehemently opposed the bill.
The home minister said it has been felt that clause six of the Assam Accord, which provides for protection of the rights of indigenous people of the state, has not been fully implemented even almost 35 years after the Accord was signed.
"The Union cabinet, therefore, approved the setting up of a high-level committee to suggest constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards as envisaged in Clause 6 of the Assam Accord. The committee shall examine the effectiveness of actions since 1985 to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord," he said.
The home minister said the terms of reference and composition of the committee will be announced within the next few days.
"The composition and terms of reference of the committee will be issued separately by the Ministry of Home Affairs. It is expected that the setting up of the committee will pave the way for the implementation of the Assam Accord in letter and spirit and will help fulfil the longstanding expectations of the Assamese people," Mr Singh said.
The Union Cabinet also approved a number of measures to fulfill the outstanding issues related to the Bodo community that include establishment of a Bodo musuem-cum-language and cultural study centre, modernisation of existing All India Radio station and Doordarshan kendra at Kokrajhar and naming a superfast train passing through Bodoland Territorial Administrative Districts (BTAD) as ARONAI Express.
The home minister said relevant central ministries will take the required actions to implement these decisions.
The Bodo Accord was signed in 2003 which resulted in the establishment of a Bodoland Territorial Council under the sixth schedule of the Constitution. However, there have been representations from different organisations of Bodos to fulfill various outstanding demands.
Mr Singh said the state government will also take necessary measures related to appropriate land policy and land laws, besides setting up of institutions for research and documentation of customs, traditions and languages of indigenous communities.