The issue of illegal immigrants is again in the news following the updation of National Register of Citizens in Assam. For decades, despite of attempts and agreements like Assam Accord (1985), the ruling Congress party and her political off-shoots kept mum over the issue to pursue their petty interest of the Muslim vote-bank. In this process, however, the rights of our indigenous people was persistently compromised and their resources were encroached. To understand the issue of illegal immigrants in its entirety, Organiser Editor Prafulla Ketkar and Senior Correspondent Nishant Kr Azad talked to the Senior Advocate Upmanyu Hazarika, who led the Apex Court appointed one man commission on the Indo-Bangladesh border issue. Excerpts:
How do you see the Supreme Court verdict on NRC and what does NRC update mean to you?
Supreme Court verdict on NRC is welcome. Till 2014, there had been no movement on the foreigner issues because political parties had vested interests and the then Congress Government did not want to do it. Supreme Court by setting out timeline and monitoring the whole process under the Registrar General of India is really laudable. It is the first step towards implementation of 33 year old Assam Accord. The figure of 40 lakh exclusion given by the NRC is far short of official estimates. On July 14, 2004, the then Union Minister for State for Home, Shri Prakash Agarwal had said in Parliament that as on December 31, 2001, there were 50 lakh Bangladeshi infiltrators in Assam which is recorded in the Supreme Court Judgement monitoring the NRC case.
On November 16, 2016, Kiren Rijiju in his statement said that around two crore illegal Bangladeshi migrants are staying in India. But if we take 40 per cent of figure that Shri Prakash Jaiswal had given in 2004 then it works out to 80 lakh now. So the figures in NRC are far short of these estimates and is only a draft list. There are thousands of instances where one or two members of a family are included and the rest excluded in the list, who will automatically find their way back. The present figure is not the final figure and is likely to fall short and has therefore fallen short drastically of the estimated number. The actual number has to be at least 50 lakh and up to 80 lakh, number of foreigners, estimated by the UPA and the NDA Governments in 2001 and 2011 respectively.
Furthermore, the exclusion percentage is 11.59 per cent of total applicants which is the state average as per figures in public domain, but the numbers excluded in border districts which have seen maximum population increase like Dhubri, Goalpara, Karimganj etc. is 7.5 per cent, far below the state average. These are districts which have seen decadal population growth rates between 22 to 24 per cent between 1991 to 2011, 5 to 6 per cent points above the state average and have one of the lowest exclusion rates. These two aspects need investigation.
It is alleged that there is a huge number of people who do not figure in the final draft. What choice do they have?
They have lot of remedies. Yes, the claims and objections are there and to sort this out, the process has started. Those excluded from the NRC will not automatically be foreigners. I believe that till September 28, the claims and objections will be filed. Thereafter when the final list comes out, those excluded from the NRC will have to be referred to Foreigner Tribunal for further adjudication to be declared as foreigners.
Mamata Banerjee and other parties in Opposition called it a ‘Conspiracy against a particular community’ and threatened the Union Government of a ‘blood bath’. How do you see this threat and Mamata’s politics?
It is politics that ensured that the infiltrators come to Assam and establish themselves. It is politics that ensured IMDT Act (The Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) that was promulgated for their benefit. Supreme Court had said in 2005 that the Act was only to protect the foreigners and against the interest of indigenous. Thereafter the NRC was brought in for not identification of foreigners but for the identification of citizens that also gave Foreigners an opportunity to apply for citizenship. This kind of politics is happening because, unfortunately most of migrants happen to be Muslims; today we are victims of this identity politics and that too with foreigners whose religious identity is more important than their citizenship status.. This is nothing new.
Some national and International agencies projecting it as Hindu-Muslim issue.
To make it a Hindu-Muslim issue is fundamentally wrong, the issue is of citizens and non-citizens and how citizens are victims in this whole process of mass infiltration. You cannot ignore the fact that large number of illegal immigrants have encroached huge areas of grazing reserves, forests etc leading to the displacement of ethnic communities. And out of 525 ethnic communities in India, North East has 247 and Assam has 115. And that is the treasure trove of ethnic diversity you need to preserve. So ultimately the focus should be on them, not on the infiltrators who by the way happen to be Muslims.
What more, apart from the NRC, needs to be done to safeguard the rights of an Assamese?
There are three recent independent studies which says that as per the existing population changes, increased infiltration and rapidly changing demography, by 2040 to 2050, indigenous people will become a minority in Assam. So the challenge before the indigenous people is not to become a minority. NRC alone will not help. Particularly in Assam, those born before December 2004 will virtually get citizenship by birth even if their parents are excluded in the NRC.
So, the only manner we can do it is by having protective legislation which we have in other north-eastern states like Arunachal, Nagaland, and Mizoram which are free from Bangladeshi infiltrators. Those only who are citizens of India and residents in Assam in 1951 and prior to that should be entitled to land, government jobs, government schemes benefits etc..
Assam, by virtue of the Assam Accord, has taken on the burden of 23 years of additional migrants as citizens. The cut-off date for Assam is March 25, 1971, while it is July 19, 1948, for the rest of India. To rectify this injustice, Clause 6 of the Assam Accord envisages grant of legal safeguards to indigenous people.
There is a rising demand to regulate NRC across all states. What is your opinion?
All the States should do it. Considering the level of infiltration especially from Bangladesh, it is a serious threat to law and order in the country. If you look at the crime rate in Assam, 70 to 80 per cent of it are being committed by these Bangladeshi infiltrators. We should definitely implement NRC in all the states of Bharat.
(This article was first published on 27th August, 2018)