| Leaders of various political parties attend the meeting at the secretariat in Shillong on Thursday. Picture by UB Photos |
Shillong, Sept. 5: Consensus eluded an all-party meeting held here today to discuss how influx and illegal immigration into Meghalaya should be tackled to safeguard the interests of the indigenous population.
The meeting was convened by chief minister Mukul Sangma and attended by representatives from the Congress, United Democratic Party (UDP), Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP), Khun Hynńiewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM), National People’s Party (NPP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Meghalaya Democratic Party (MDP).
While Sangma termed the inner-line permit (ILP), a mechanism under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873, as “an outdated and a colonial act”, parties like the UDP, HSPDP and KHNAM stuck to their guns and wanted the government to implement the ILP across the state.
The sombre mood of the much-awaited gathering could be gauged from the fact that minutes after the meeting commenced, Garo National Council (GNC) legislator Clifford R. Marak walked out when the chief minister did not immediately spell out the government’s stand on the ILP.
But before he walked out, Marak warned the gathering: “If we are not careful, one day we will be swamped by non-indigenous groups and we will become like Tripura.”
Setting aside the idea of putting in place the ILP as a mechanism to check influx and illegal infiltration, Sangma promised the parties that his government will come up with a draft tenancy bill this month while recruitment of personnel to the anti-infiltration directorate and labour department would be fast-tracked.
Besides reminding the parties that the state is protected under the Sixth Schedule, Sangma made a mention about the need to strengthen the Meghalaya Land Transfer (Regulation) Act, 1971 and to crack the whip on benami transactions.
To determine who is a genuine citizen and who is not, Sangma said the National Population Register (NPR) is the need of the hour.
However, HSPDP legislator Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit countered Sangma, saying that the existing laws and mechanisms only cater to those who are already residing within the state.
“These laws have failed and will continue to fail. What is required is detecting illegal migrants from the entrance and this can be done through the ILP,” Basaiawmoit added.
HSPDP member and lawyer Fenela Lyngdoh Nonglait said the Centre needs to be approached for implementing the ILP in the state.
UDP legislator Paul Lyngdoh, while quoting from the report on high-level committee on influx, said as the committee had already done its work, there was no need to discuss the pros and cons of the ILP.
Replying to the points, Sangma said the state would need to approach the Centre if ILP was to be implemented in Meghalaya which could be a time-consuming affair. He also said the ILP has not been effective in Arunachal Pradesh.
As the meeting came to a close, Basaiawmoit told Sangma that the HSPDP was not party to any of the decisions taken at the meeting while Paul Lyngdoh said the meeting was a “disappointment”.
The HSPDP, UDP and the KHNAM also reiterated their demand to implement the ILP as they found it to be the best mechanism to check influx and illegal immigration.
Talking to reporters, Sangma said: “The government is coming up with new ideas (to deal with influx and illegal immigration) and there is no bankruptcy of ideas and we do not have to fall back on an outdated and colonial act.”
Picket pressure: Pressure groups which are demanding implementation of the ILP today announced their decision to picket all government offices on Saturday as part of their ongoing agitation.
Saturday is usually a non-working day for all government offices. However, in view of the 12-hour shutdown which was called on Monday the government decided to compensate the loss by making Saturday a working day.
The vice-president of the KSU, Frederick Kharmawphlang, said all government offices would be picketed on that day. He also said that tomorrow’s night road blockade will be held from 10pm to 5am.