Tribal refugees in Tripura cast postal ballot for Mizoram
Reang tribal refugees, sheltered in seven camps in Tripura for the past 17 years after fleeing from their villages in neighbouring Mizoram, Tuesday began casting their votes through postal ballots for the Lok Sabha polls in the northeastern state, officials said.
Balloting for the lone Lok Sabha seat from Mizoram, bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh, is scheduled to be held in the second phase April 9.
"Tight security measures have been undertaken in six of the seven relief camps, where facilitation centers were set up to enable the eligible refugee voters to cast their votes by postal ballots," Tripura Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Asutosh Jindal told IANS.
"The ballotting would continue till Thursday. After that the Mizoram officials would take the postal ballot to the respective counting centres to count the votes May 16," Jindal said.
He added: "The facilitation centres have been set up under the guidance of the Election Commission of India (ECI). The commission has also appointed seven observers to supervise the electoral process of these centres. Tripura government has provided the logistical support like security to these facilitation centres."
Seven officials from Mizoram have also come to the refugee camps to assist the electoral process.
Of the over 36,000 Reang tribal refugees, locally known as "Bru", living in the Kanchanpur and Panisagar refugee camps of Tripura for the past 17 years, about 11,500 are listed in Mizoram's electoral rolls.
Five NGOs and youth organisations, led by the Young Mizo Association, organised protest rallies in Aizawl and other places of Mizoram last week demanding that the poll panel revoke its decision to take the refugees' votes through postal ballot.
"We have sent a memorandum to the Election Commission conveying our protest... But it is yet to respond to it... We will continue our protest," said Lalhmachhuana, president of Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) and member of the coordination committee of the five NGOs and youth bodies.
The NGOs also demanded that all refugees be sent back to their Mizoram villages before the Lok Sabha polls. They added that the names of those refusing to return be deleted from the electoral rolls.
Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla earlier this month urged Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath not to allow the refugees to vote through postal ballots.
The tribals fled their villages in Mizoram after ethnic troubles with the majority Mizos over the killing of a Mizo forest official.
About 5,000 refugees returned to their homes in the past three-and-half years following continued persuasion by Mizoram, Tripura and union home ministry officials. The process, however, got stalled after that with many refusing to return unless their security is guaranteed.
Jindal said: "...the EC has decided to take the votes of the refugees in the relief camps (in north Tripura) through postal ballots."
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar has told both the prime minister and the union home minister on a number of occasions that "continuous presence of refugees from Mizoram for over 17 years has been a matter of concern for Tripura".
(Posted on 01-04-2014)
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