An organisation of Bru refugees living in Tripura claimed that a four-month-old baby died in a relief camp on Monday taking the total number of people losing their lives "because of starvation" to six and three other inmates have been hospitalised.
The displaced people continued with their road blockade for the fifth day demanding resumption of free ration and cash-dole to them, which the Centre has stopped since October following commencement of the repatriation of the refugees to their homeland Mizoram.
Tripura government officials, however, said four Bru inmates of the relief camps have died so far and medical teams have been sent there.
They also said free rations and cash-dole will not be resumed as per the order of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
"Six people died and three persons were hospitalised due to deprivation of free ration and cash-dole by the Centre from October due to the ongoing repatriation scheduled to be concluded on November 30," Mizoram Bru Displaced People's Forum (MBDPF) said.
MBDPF general secretary Bruno Msha told PTI over phone that a four-month-old girl died in Hamsapara relief camp on Monday morning.
Three persons including an elderly man and a child of Naisingpara camp died of starvation on Sunday, Msha claimed.
Two inmates of Naisingpara had died on Thursday.
Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) of Kanchanpur Abhedananda Baidya said four refugees had died since Thursday.
The SDM had said on Saturday that an enquiry was being conducted to ascertain the cause of death of the two inmates of Naisingpara relief camp on Thursday.
"Two medical teams have already reached refugee camps to check the health condition of the refugees, especially the children," Baidya said.
Tripura Additional Chief Secretary Kumar Alok also went to Naisingpara and held a meeting with refugee leaders to discuss the death of the refugees and the road blockade.
Road communication from Ananda Bazar to Kanchapur via Dasda has collapsed due to the blockade, an official said.
Mizoram officials on duty at Kanchanpur said the agitating Brus were not blocking the road targeting trucks carrying essential goods but trying to stop Mizoram officials who are there repatriate the Bru families.
In the meeting, Alok urged the Bru leaders to withdraw the blockade which has affected the people of Dasda, Ananda Bazar and its adjacent areas, at the earliest.
"As per an agreement, those who repatriate to Mizoram within the next three days will get Rs 25,000 extra. There is no question of resuming free ration to the refugees as directed by the MHA," Baidya said, quoting Alok.
The meeting was attended by North Tripura District Magistrate Raval H Kumar, Superintendent of Police Bhanu Pada Chakraborty and Chief Medical Officer Dr Jagadish Nama.
Bru leaders neither accepted nor rejected the offer of the additional chief secretary who acted as an emissary of the MHA, a source said.
Each adult in the relief camps used to get Rs 2.67 and a minor Rs 1.33 a day as cash-dole while the quantity of rice was 450 gm for an adult per day and 225 gm for a minor per day as free ration.
The Centre has not supplied ration and cash dole to the 35,000 odd refugees for October while the repatriation process of the displaced Bru people is still on.
The Centre had made it clear that the relief camps of Bru refugees in Tripura would be closed down and the displaced persons must be repatriated to Mizoram during the ongoing exercise, Special Secretary (internal security), Ministry of Home Affairs, A P Maheshwari, had said on October 16.
Over 4,000 Bru displaced families, lodged in the relief camps at Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-divisions of North Tripura district, are scheduled to return to neighbouring Mizoram from where they had fled since 1997 following ethnic clashes.
This ninth round of Bru repatriation has been termed as the "final" one by the government.
The Bru community, also called Reangs, is among the 21 scheduled tribes in the country. They are scattered across Assam, Mizoram and Tripura.
During the eighth round of repatriation, the Ministry of Home Affairs had warned that the relief camps would be closed down from October one 2018 and free ration and money doled to the displaced families would be discontinued. However, that phase did not bear much fruit.
While the MHA did stop the free ration and cash dole from October one, 2018, the Centre restarted it apparently due to political reasons as Mizoram assembly election was nearing.
The Centre has approved Rs 350 crore for the ninth phase of repatriation and the amount covers transportation and rehabilitation package expenses, which include Rs 5,000 per month for each resettled Bru family in Mizoram and free ration for them for two years.
Only around 1,681 families have returned to Mizoram since 2010 and were resettled in Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei districts till the eighth round of repatriation.
The vexed Bru problem started when the Bru people, spearheaded by an organisation, Bru National Union, demanded a separate autonomous district council by carving out areas of western Mizoram in September, 1997.
The situation was aggravated by the murder of a forest guard in the Dampa Tiger Reserve in western Mizoram by Bru National Liberation Front insurgents on October 21, 1997.
The first attempt to repatriate the Brus from Tripura from November 16, 2009 not only fizzled out due to the murder of a Mizo youth at Bungthuam village on November 13, 2009, but also triggered another wave of exodus.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)