Guwahati, June 05: Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that the threat of population explosion will need to be managed if Assam has to become one of the top five states in the country.

Sarma addressed a press conference in Guwahati, after he met more than 150 indigenous Muslim personalities from various fields to discuss the community’s socio-economic issues at a programme titled ‘Alaap Alochana – Empowering the Religious Minorities’.

“We discussed a number of issues confronting the indigenous minority community and it was agreed that the population explosion in some parts of Assam has caused a real threat for the development of Assam, more particularly in the economic sense,” said Sarma.

In order to address that, eight sub-groups comprising members from the indigenous Muslim community will be formed on health, education, population stabilisation, cultural identity, financial inclusion, women empowerment, and skill development. Each committee will come up with recommendations within three months. “After that, we will be here again to prepare a roadmap for the next five years,” he added.

While Sunday’s meeting was with writers, doctors, cultural workers, lecturers, historians, musicians, among others, the next round of meetings will be held with politicians and student organizations from the minority community.

Sarma said the meeting emphasised that the “uniqueness of the indigenous Assamese Muslims should be protected and preserved”.

Minister of Welfare of Minorities and Development Department Chandra Mohan Patowary, Education Minister Dr Ranoj Pegu, and MLA and Political Secretary to the CM Jayanta Malla Baruah were also present.

Sarma said that he would soon meet members of the Bengali-origin Muslim community of Assam for similar discussions. “There is a distinct cultural difference… in language, in culture… between both the communities. We respect both identities,” he said.

While according to the 2011 Census, Muslims constitute 34.2 percent of Assam’s 3.12 crore population, the compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of the Muslim population over the last two decades has been consistently dropping. Over the two decades of the 1990s and 2000s, the CAGR of the Muslim population has dropped from 1.77 per cent during 1991-2001 to 1.57 per cent during 2001-2011.

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Earlier this month, Sarma had faced criticism for his comment that “numerous social ills in Assam” could be overcome if the “immigrant Muslim community adopts decent family planning norms”.

Sarma has been advocating an extension of the state’s current two-child policy. While it earlier said that those with more than two children would be barred from government jobs and from contesting local elections, in June the government proposed to extend its two-child policy for availing of benefits under specific schemes funded by the state.