The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Election heat on Bangla migrants

New Delhi, Jan. 30: North Block will focus on the detection and deportation of illegal immigrants, mostly from Bangladesh, in the coming months with the BJP planning to turn this into a big issue in the next general elections.

Home ministry officials, however, don’t have a clue on how to go about the drive. In the past, such exercises have yielded no returns and the problem was shoved under the carpet.

The BJP has been protesting against infiltration from Bangladesh since it was in the Opposition. In the early eighties, the party extended support to the anti-foreigners agitation launched by the All Assam Students’ Movement.

“We realise this is a very difficult task, but it is up to us to give a signal that India is not a soft state and will not tolerate unchecked infiltration,” deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani said.

Echoing him, junior home minister, Vidyasagar Rao said: “The process must be started. We have to begin somewhere. We can’t shut our eyes to the problem.”

Rao claimed that deportation of illegal immigrants was being carried out in almost all states, except Assam, where the Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunal Act had impeded the process.

According to the Act, anybody accusing another person of being a “foreign national” will need to furnish necessary proof.

The Centre wants to turn the law around and put the onus on the accused, making it the responsibility of the accused person to prove his/her Indian citizenship.

A senior bureaucrat claimed that deporting illegal aliens had proved futile. “They are taken to the border and shoved out but within days the same people are back, slipping in from another gap in the long, porous border that divides Bangladesh and India on the eastern front,” the official said.

The Centre can do very little unless the states co operate, the bureaucrat added. Many states are only now becoming aware of the problem and are keen to cooperate.

The fact that militants often use the same routes to enter India and carry out terrorist acts has made states realise the importance of keeping out illegal nationals.

“Earlier, many states were not prepared to act against foreigners, especially in the Bengali-speaking areas of the border. But today most state governments are conscious of the need to keep a strict vigil on the border,” an official said.

Bangladesh has refused to acknowledge the presence of its nationals illegally in India. The Bangla government says Dhaka will willingly take a person back if he/she is proved to be a Bangladeshi national.

The problem is that many illegal immigrants have obtained ration cards and succeeded in getting registered as voters. Many of them, recently detected in Delhi, Mumbai or other parts of the country, gave false addresses in West Bengal.

The Centre will soon issue national identity cards to villagers living near the international border. The government is also trying to speed up the verification process so that persons possessing voter identity cards can no longer get away by giving false addresses.

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