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Meghalaya mulls pass for ‘outsiders’

New Delhi, Dec. 11: Meghalaya is planning to make work permits mandatory for “outsiders” employed in the state in a bid to prevent them from settling there.

Chief minister D.D. Lapang, who is in the capital, said he had spoken to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his deputy L.K. Advani about the need to “keep track of outsiders employed in the hill state” and received a positive response. “We are hopeful of our demand being met. Ours is a border state and measures should be taken to prevent ethnic disturbances,” he said.

The chief minister, however, said the proposed scheme would apply only to Indian citizens. “We cannot afford to be sympathetic to foreign citizens. A drive is on to detect and deport them,” Lapang added.

According to official records, 10,571 Bangladeshi migrants were deported from Meghalaya in the past three years. Though the state has long been making noises about the influx of people from different parts of the country, this is the first time that it is lobbying with Delhi for the introduction of a work-permit system.

Sources said the move could prompt the other states of the Northeast to follow suit. Assam, which witnessed a backlash against Biharis recently, is leading the campaign for reservation of railway and central government jobs in the region for local candidates.

Lapang said Meghalaya should be included in the pilot project of the multipurpose national identity card scheme. He submitted a memorandum on this to the deputy Prime Minister, saying the state’s proximity to Bangladesh necessitated such a step.

“It is learnt that the government of India has taken up a pilot project of the national identity card scheme covering some districts of a few states. However, Meghalaya, which has 425-km-long border with Bangladesh, has not been included in the pilot project,” the chief minister said.

Hindi-speaking people account for an estimated 10 per cent of Meghalaya’s population of 2.3 million. Most of them are employed as daily wage earners in Shillong, Tura and in the coal mines of the Jaintia Hills, the West Khasi Hills and the South Garo Hills.

A report compiled by the Group of Ministers in 2001 suggested that all citizens be issued identical identity cards and non-citizens with cards of a different colour. It said the project should be launched first in the border areas and later extended to other places. The scheme was endorsed at two conferences of chief ministers.

Lapang said his government would continue to pressure Delhi to implement the scheme. “We cannot afford to allow outsiders to outnumber the indigenous population or let a situation arise when we will be totally helpless.”

During his meeting with Vajpayee, Lapang stressed the need to complete the border-fencing project soon and transfer the disputed blocks I and II of Assam’s Karbi Anglong district to his state. A senior official said the constitutional safeguards for the indigenous people of tribal states such as Meghalaya were inadequate to stem the influx.

“Migrants cannot purchase land in Meghalaya, but they stay put even without possessing immovable assets,” he pointed out.

Like the other northeastern states, Meghalaya does not have enough skilled labour of its own.

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