The Union cabinet on Wednesday said it will form a high-level committee for safeguarding the interests of ethnic Assamese. This comes in the wake of the closure on 31 December of the process for claims and objections with regard to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) ahead of its final draft later this year.

The move marks a back-pedalling by the centre on an issue that has rocked the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Assam. Alliance partner Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) threatening to walk out should Parliament pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, which seeks to provide citizenship to migrants from neighbouring countries.

Union home minister Rajnath Singh did not disclose the details of the committee, but said that it would aim to identify gaps in the implementation of the Assam Accord.

“Clause 6 of the Assam Accord envisages that appropriate constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards should be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the ethnic Assamese. The committee will look at how effectively the Accord was implemented and if not, then why it was not implemented," Singh told the media.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is an anomaly for Assam, which is in the midst of the NRC process that seeks to identify and deport illegal Bangladeshi migrants from the state.

The AGP continued to put up stiff resistance to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, with senior party members being sceptical of Singh’s announcement.

“We must know the terms and conditions of this committee and how it will function. The centre and all other parties need to understand that the Citizenship Amendment Bill will threaten the rights of the indigenous people and we will not accept it. This bill also clashes with the NRC and it will also affect the Assam Accord," said former Assam chief minister and senior AGP leader Prafulla Mahanta.

The home minister attempted to placate the AGP, saying the 1985 Assam Accord was not implemented effectively, a factor that the centre was trying to rectify by setting up a high powered committee.

“The committee will gauge the effectiveness of the Accord and suggest measures needed to protect the Assamese language. It will assess the measures needed for safeguarding the ethnic Assamese, the extent of employment reservation quantum and so on. The terms and conditions of the committee will soon be decided by the Union home ministry," Singh said.

“The original work of detecting and deporting illegal migrants under the NRC 2009 exercise according to the citizenship rules was very slow. The final draft was released on 30 July and the claims and objections process was closed on 31 December. The process to effectively implement the Assam Accord has been started by our government," he said.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has decided to give 3% interest subsidy to merchant exporters, entailing an expenditure of 600 crore, to improve liquidity and boost shipments.

Gireesh Chandra Prasad contributed to this story.

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